Accentuate the negative?

ony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

CHICAGO, Ill.—Watch out for Tony Stewart.

The defending Cup champion isn’t brimming with optimism about his chances for a fourth title this year. Then again, Stewart was about as negative as he could be last year when assessing his prospects—before grabbing the championship with five victories in the Chase.

So if Stewart is downplaying his chances this season, take it with a grain of salt.

“I’m a little bit pessimistic again,” Stewart said. “I don’t feel like we’re as good as we need to be right now, but I feel like we’re in a better position than we were last year. But I still don’t feel like we’re exactly where we need to be.”

Stewart, however, knows better than to discount the possibility of a second straight title, given what he was able to accomplish last year.

“I think it definitely gives the approach of not giving up hope on it, for sure,” Stewart said. “But, like you say, every season is different, and it doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee that it can happen again this way for us.

“We’ve still got to go out and run our 10 races and do the best we can.”

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