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“We’re in a little different scenario this year than last year. We’re a little further back,” said Stewart, who’s eighth in the Chase and 50 points back of leader Brad Keselowski.

Stewart squandered an opportunity to pick up ground two weeks ago at Talladega when he triggered a 25-car pileup trying to protect the lead on the last lap. The chaotic crash collected 10 of the 12 title contenders and dropped the defending champion from winning the race to a 22nd place finish.

“I had an opportunity to gain 20-some odd points and that would have put us in a very similar situation where we were last year,” Stewart said. “That was an opportunity that got away because of a mistake that I made. We’ve learned that until they mathematically tell you you’re out, you still have just a good of shot as anybody. We’ll keep plugging away.”

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PIT ROAD PERIL: The new grading at Kansas Speedway has changed the way drivers enter and leave pit road, and that could create some excitement during green-flag pit stops on Sunday.

The transitions are steeper than they were under the previous configuration, so drivers have spent part of practice getting a bearing on the angle they’ll take entering pit road.

They’ll also have to blend later on the straightaway when they get back on the track.

“It’s really hard to get on pit road. The tires are so hard,” Chase leader Brad Keselowski said. “It’s just one of the many challenges that a repaved track has, and one of those things you have to figure out. Whoever does that best will have an advantage.”