NASCAR

Early results show Stewart-Haas is the real deal

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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RICHMOND, Va.

When Tony Stewart announced he was venturing from the secure confines of Joe Gibbs Racing to form his own team last year, pundits questioned his sanity. Ten races into the season, It's Stewart who should be questioning the pundits as he and teammate Ryan Newman are both nestled into the top 10 in the standings. For Newman, his debut at Daytona with Stewart-Haas Racing was disastrous as he tore up three cars in the course of four days. He opened with an engine failure nine laps into his first practice. Incidents in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race, first with Boris Said and later David Reutimann, knocked him to a 24th-place finish. And Happy Hour was anything but happy. Twenty-five minutes into the final practice for the biggest event of the year, Newman cut a tire, which caused his car to spin and run into his teammate/team owner. Newman ultimately soldiered on to a 36th-place finish in the first race of 2009, but his No. 39 Army team has vaulted 26 positions in the standings over the last nine races, posting an average finish of 8.5 in the last six events. And while teams considerably more established than Stewart-Haas Racing either missed the set-up or failed to make the proper adjustments throughout the race at Richmond on Saturday night, Newman made his way to the point four times to lead a total of 45 laps and finished fourth — two positions behind Stewart. "I told the guys if we keep doing this we'll get what we want and obviously we want to be in Victory Lane," Newman said. "We showed that we could lead and we had a car that could race with Kyle (Busch, race winner), no doubt. We persevered and made it home with a strong finish. "A great effort for Tony Stewart and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. We got two cars in the top five which was a first for us, and hopefully it's a first of many. It's been a long time for me with two straight top fives." Stewart's quest has been equally impressive. In his first year with a new team since his rookie season in 1999, the two-time Cup champ is off to his best start since he was second in the standings after 10 races in 2006. Although he has yet to win, he scored his fourth top five on Saturday and trails championship leader Jeff Gordon by just 39 points. Certainly, both Newman and Stewart are concerned about performance. But Stewart also shoulders the responsibility of the entire company. After all, his name is on the door. Following his second-place Richmond finish, Stewart beamed in his post-race interviews, humbly admitting he was "proud of the whole organization." "I think Ryan's fourth-place run was more impressive than our second-place finish," Stewart said. "I think we backed up into it with the luxury of getting tires towards the end. But still, just to see how good a night Ryan had, I was proud and happy for those guys, just proud for our whole organization."
Measuring Up
How does Stewart-Haas Racing compare to NASCAR's top organizations so far?
Team
Cars
Wins
Top fives
Top 10s
SHR
Two
0
6
11
Hendrick
Four
3
12
21
Gibbs
Three
3
6
9
Roush
Five
2
7
16
Childress
Four
0
7
12
Understandably, SHR is not your traditional start-up. Aside from being an established organization since 2002 under the Haas CNC Racing banner, its technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports puts the company on equal footing with NASCAR's top teams. But unlike previous years, Stewart has found the right people to take advantage of everything in place. It starts with the men on top of the pit boxes. Stewart's ability to secure Darian Grubb as his crew chief on the No. 14 team offered the organization a manager who was intimately familiar with the Hendrick systems and strategy. For Newman's No. 39 outfit, SHR followed a similar pattern by hiring Tony Gibson. Not only did Gibson bring along a ready-made team from Dale Earnhardt Inc., he also has experience with the Hendrick program having previously worked as Jeff Gordon's crew chief. But those aren't the only changes since Stewart became involved. The two-time Cup champion has added a Harvard MBA, Brett Frood, to run the business side of the company, along with Bobby Hutchens, who was one of the first engineers in the garage before the practice became popular. Those additions, among countless others, have helped SHR reach heights like never before in the team's history — both on and off the track. Not only are both the Nos. 14 and 39 inside the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but Stewart also has been able to secure sizeable backing from sponsors in the most difficult economic climate the sport has ever seen.
The results have caught the attention of competitors, including Jeff Burton, who finished between Stewart and Newman on Saturday night. "It's been impressive to watch the change," Burton said. "The mentality that Tony has brought in there, about not being there just to be there, but to be there to win. I'm not sure I remember a team changing possession. You know what I mean — a new owner stepping in and the turnaround being what it's been. "He's making other people want to go and own their own cars. That's probably not a good thing. But it's been real impressive to watch." Stewart credits his former boss Joe Gibbs with tutoring him on Ownership 101. Gibbs, the competitor, has taken notice. "Tony's done a great job, obviously," Gibbs said. "I think he has some great stuff coming from Hendrick's. I think he's got a real good partner there with Ryan. I think he's done a real good job putting everything together. "I think we give him a big thumbs up for what they're doing over there." With the momentum the teams are carrying following a successful month, the pundits that questioned Stewart last season could be feting him or Newman at Darlington next weekend — but Stewart's got bigger goals in mind. "I would rather have five second-place finishes in a row than I would have a win, a 32nd, an 18th, a 43rd and a seventh," Stewart said. "That consistency and that momentum of being up front every week and knowing that you have an opportunity to run for the win each night, that momentum carries you into that week-after-week stretch. That's what you need going into the Chase. You need to have that momentum. You need to have that confidence that goes with the momentum to feel like every day when you go out there you got a shot to win the race." Sounds like a champion who knows what it takes to be sitting at the head table come December.
Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, David Reutimann, Boris Said

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