What does Monday night's World Cup win by the United States have to do with Tony Stewart's most recent at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011?
For those that aren't soccer buffs, the U.S.A saw both its 2006 and 2010 World Cups end in losses to the small, west African country of Ghana. While the Americans entered the tournament ranked 13th in the world with Ghana ranked 37th, the matchup certainly wasn't the opening opponent that the U.S. wanted to see.
That feeling of self-doubt brings back memories of Tony Stewart's 2011 pre-Chase performance. He entered the Chase for the Sprint Cup without a win and just three measly top-fives and proclaimed himself a long shot to win the championship.
After a Chase opening win at Chicagoland, Stewart still didn't put too much stock in just one race as he headed to NHMS. The 2010 SYLVANIA 300 was a "coulda', shoulda'" race for the driver of the No. 14. He led late before running out of gas and yielding the win to Clint Bowyer.
In 2011, the roles were reversed as Bowyer led second-running Stewart with the laps winding down. As the leaders crossed the Granite Stripe with two laps to go, Bowyer's car sputtered and died. Ironically, he had run out of gas.
Stewart darted around him and went on to lead his only two laps of the race for a momentum building win. By snatching victory from the jaws of disappointment at just the right moment, it wasn't the same for Stewart the rest of the season. He had found success.
The United States looked similar on Monday. Clint Dempsey scored the earliest goal in the nation's World Cup history just 29 seconds into the match. Like Stewart at Chicagoland, the U.S. was off to a hot-start, but then they seemed to get complacent and lose their confidence.
Ghana brought pressure throughout the game and finally broke through for the game-tying goal in the 82nd minute. The win seemed to have slipped away for the U.S., and it needed the opponent to run out of gas in order to make a pass for the lead.
That break came four minutes after Ghana's goal when halftime substitute John Brooks headed home a corner kick to restore a lead. From there, the United States completed the final few turns in one piece to pull out the victory.
Similar to Stewart-Bowyer, the U.S.'s win over Ghana is a role reversal from years past. Placed precariously in what's referred to as "The Group of Death" (meaning there are more than two good teams in the group, so some will not move on to the Elimination Round), both the United States and Ghana needed the three points awarded for a win.
Beating either of the other two teams, Germany and Portugal, presents a tall order of business. For Ghana, its World Cup is likely all but over. But, the U.S. is now a win or draw in its next match (against Portugal) away from setting up for a possible berth in the Elimination Round.
In the case of once-longshot Tony Stewart, eight weeks after his NHMS win, he took the checkered flag for the fifth time in 10 Chase races at Homestead-Miami Speedway to seal the championship. The United States might be much more of a longshot than the former Cup champion, but it's not the same American team from years past. It did not lose to Ghana in this World Cup, and the hope of achieving greatness grows with each win ... just like it did for Stewart.