WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Smoke’s out. Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose are desperate to get in.

With only five races remaining before NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, Tony Stewart’s chances of winning a fourth series title more than likely vanished Monday night on an Iowa race track. Stewart was injured driving his open-wheel sprint car when it flipped, and he remains in a hospital recovering from surgery to stabilize two broken bones in his right leg.

The top 10 drivers in the points standings automatically qualify for the 10-race Chase, and the final two wild-card spots go to the drivers in 11th to 20th place with the most victories. Barring a bad race, Stewart’s absence will give SHR teammate Ryan Newman a break. Newman only trails his boss by 19 points and is on the rise with a victory at Indianapolis and a fourth-place finish last week at Pocono in the last two Cup races.

Still, with Stewart missing from the 43-car field, Montoya and Ambrose have one fewer driver to fret about as they seek that elusive first win of what has been a difficult season for both. A victory by either driver would vault him into the top 20 in the standings and into wild-card consideration for the Chase. A victory on an oval before the Chase cutoff after Richmond also would be needed, something neither has been able to accomplish.

Montoya and Ambrose share a unique distinction: Each has two Cup victories and they’ve all come on the two road courses NASCAR’s top series visits annually. Montoya has one victory each at Sonoma (2007) and Watkins Glen (2010), while Ambrose will be chasing his third straight victory at The Glen.

“The only thing we need to do at The Glen to have a chance of winning is not screw up,” said Montoya, who finished 36th at Sonoma in June after running out of gas while running second with one lap to go. “Yeah, honestly, if we have 10 pit stops, we’re in the top three. I’ll guarantee you we’re in the top three. Worst-case scenario we’re fourth. If we run out of brakes, we’ll finish fifth.”

Ambrose has become the newest master of the high-speed turns at The Glen, and he figures to be the man to beat in the 90-lap race around the 2.45-mile layout. Ambrose has won all three Nationwide races he’s entered at Watkins Glen, and in five Cup starts has two wins, one second and two thirds, including an impressive drive from last to third for the Wood Brothers in 2008.

“Even with small teams, he’s a phenomenal road-course driver,” Cup driver Michael McDowell said.

INDYCAR: Four consecutive Honda wins has the engine manufacturer feeling much better about the IndyCar season and its relationship with longtime partner Chip Ganassi.

The team owner was highly critical of Honda to start the season, questioning the manufacturer’s commitment to winning after Chevrolet entered IndyCar last season.

“I don’t know if they want to win bad enough,” Ganassi said at the March season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Fla. “They talk about everything at Honda but winning. They said for years and years and years they want competition. Now they’ve got competition, and they are not talking about winning. I feel like they want to sit around and hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ I want to win.”

The criticism certainly got Honda’s attention and made waves, but the manufacturer understood Ganassi’s message.

“He’s a dyed-in-the-wool racer. He wants to win and so do we,” said Stephen Eriksen, vice president and chief operating officer of Honda Performance Development Inc.

“He’s got the pressures of sponsorships and things to deal with. He feels that pressure all the time,” he said. “I understand him being frustrated, but that’s an emotional thing. If you take a step back and look at it logically from the steps we’ve taken together to be successful, those things have come together.”

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