DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- By his own admission, Tony Stewart looks back on his 2011 championship season and realizes one thing -- he and his No. 14 team were lucky and good at the right time.
"I still can't explain it, I wish I could," Stewart said Thursday at Media Day at Daytona International Speedway while reflecting on his third title. "The first 26 weeks, anything that could go wrong went wrong. Every week.
"The days we didn't have a problem, we missed it on the setup. The days we were good, something would happen with pit strategy. Those last 10 weeks, with the exception of Dover, everything kind of went right.
"It seems like the bad luck we had in the first 26 weeks we just didn't have in the last 10. ... Everything just went right in The Chase."
The 2002 and 2005 Cup champion, Stewart said he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team felt they had a shot at the title after winning his third Chase race at Martinsville, Va. He recorded five victories on the season -- all in a miraculous 10-race run in the Chase.
TEAM TURNOVER: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya has missed The Chase championship in four of his five Sprint Cup seasons since joining NASCAR in 2007.
Owner Chip Ganassi has set about making sure it doesn't happen in 2012, re-signing Montoya, bringing new crew chief Chris Heroy over from Hendrick Motorsports and strengthening the No. 42 team with more technical specialists.
"Changes were needed, and Chip really got into making sure we got the best we could," said Montoya. "If any of you think we performed as a team last year, you shouldn't be a reporter or you shouldn't be involved in this sport.
"It was a bad year for us. When it was our 'A' day and we could finish eighth or something, that's crazy. A team of the caliber of Chip Ganassi Racing can't run like that, and Chip realized that and that's why so many changes were made over the offseason.
"Are two months enough to get everybody in place and get the team and cars where they need to be? I'm not 100 percent sure."
FEEL-GOOD STORY: Like most drivers, Kurt Busch fielded a number of questions concerning Danica Patrick, whom the older Busch brother put in a special category.
"She's got America's hearts. She's captivated everybody with her freshness and newness," said Busch, who was fired by Penske Racing after an incident at Homestead, Fla., last November.
"We have Tim Tebow and guys like Jeremy Lin on the Knicks. They're everybody's feel-good story. She's going to have that no matter wherever she goes."
Using Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis, Busch will drive the No. 51 car for team owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing plus drive half of the Nationwide Series for his brother's Kyle Busch Motorsports team.
HE SAID IT: "There always is," said Brad Keselowski, when asked if NASCAR will enact a rule change after Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout all-star race.