NASCAR

Stewart rides waves of change, success

Tony Stewart says winning 'never gets old.'
Tony Stewart says winning 'never gets old.'
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Rea White

Rea White has been covering NASCAR full time since 1998. She has won awards from press agencies in Alabama and North Carolina and formerly served as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter.

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CONCORD, N.C.

When Tony Stewart opted to leave his ultra-successful spot with Joe Gibbs Racing to become a co-owner and driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, many questioned the timing and wisdom of his move.

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As he has proven, they would be foolish to do so again as he prepares to enter the season riding a wave of change within his organization.

Stewart is a competitive racer capable of reeling off wins and fighting for the championship year to year. So when he wasn’t initially doing either in 2011, he began making changes. In his third season as the organization’s co-owner/driver, he made the decision to part with crew chief Darian Grubb once the season ended — then went out and won five races and his third NASCAR Cup title of his career.

Then he hired crew chief Steve Addington to replace Grubb. And he and added former crew chief Greg Zipadelli, with whom he won a pair of Sprint Cup titles, as the new competition director for the organization.

Now, the defending series champion and team prepare to enter 2012 with a lot of new variables to face.

He appears undaunted by the challenge. Relaxed and confident looking, Stewart seems ready to go out and pick up where he left off in 2011 — just with a few new people in the uniforms around him.

Does he worry about losing the momentum he carried through that final stretch of races in 2011?

Apparently not.

“Honestly, I think it’s easy to keep that intensity up,” he said. “The difference is there’s some variables that have changed. You realize that it’s a different focus than necessarily what we had at the end of the season last year. There’s always something, when you get three or four races from the end of the year and you know you’ve got a shot at it, there’s just a redirected energy and it’s like nothing else matters.

“. . . You realize that intensity’s still there, but you realize there’s a learning process that’s going along with learning a new crew chief.”

He’s excited about the chance to work with Zipadelli again, and with Addington as a crew chief for the first time. Addington was, however, a part of Joe Gibbs Racing when Stewart competed with that organization.

With an organization that made changes in two such crucial positions, one might think the offseason would be a hectic experience.

But while Stewart admits he spent more time in the shop, he quickly credits the work being done by those around him — and sees the impact it could have on his attempt to win back-to-back titles.

“I haven’t really done anything,” he said. “There’s been a lot of work that’s gone on in the organization, but I’ve been there pretty much just for moral support. When you hire a new crew chief and competition director, you don’t want to hire them and then go, ‘OK, I’m going on vacation. You guys come work, I’m going on vacation.’ I felt like I needed to be at the shop a little more. I didn’t do anything other than just be there for moral support for them, but I think that meant a lot to those guys and meant a lot to the team that we were in there a lot.”

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According to Addington, it did. He points out how well Stewart treats the people around him in the organization, how Stewart makes it clear how much he respects and appreciates the work ethic of those around him.

While Stewart says he gets along well with Addington, it will take being together at the track to discover exactly how well the partnership works and how much work they need to do to completely understand how each defines a needed change on the car.

Still, Addington already sees good chemistry among all the team members, something he said builds confidence for everyone.

And while Addington's certainly been working on getting cars and personnel ready to challenge for another title, he’s also taken a little extra time to get to know the team — time that could also pay dividends once this season begins.

“You just try to hang out with them, take them to dinner, and we’ve done that . . . This weekend, some of them went to a concert and after the concert we kind of hung out,” Addington said of how he has gotten to know the team members. “It’s just getting the guys together and just building relationships.”

Tagged: Tony Stewart

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