NASCAR

Stewart faces long road to Chase

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, talks to Steve Byrnes about the how the team is uniting.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, talks to Steve Byrnes about the...
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Jeff Hammond

FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Cup wins as a crew chief.

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There has been a lot of talk, especially these past few weeks, about what is going on at Stewart-Haas Racing and especially with former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

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That team simply hasn’t been consistently competitive as we are used to seeing. This has a lot of folks in the garage area and fans scratching their heads because this is truly uncharacteristic of Stewart.

Obviously, the restructuring of the organization they did last year, the addition of the third full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup team with Danica Patrick this year and the pressure that comes with that has seemingly affected the organization's on-track performance.

Ramping up a third team while at the same time going through the learning curve, as everyone is on this new Generation 6 car this year, has clearly disrupted the overall flow of the organization. So I think Stewart and company are really going through a lot of growing pains over there.

I really think that for the first time in the organization's history, they are behind and definitely playing catch-up. That’s not a knock on Stewart or anyone over there at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s just the fact.

It’s nothing we haven’t seen in our sport before. We’ve seen Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi and Roush Fenway Racing all go through it. I don’t for one second think that Tony Stewart is any less of a driver than he’s ever been. I don’t for one second think competition director Greg Zipadelli has lost his competitive fire. Collectively, they just have to all work through it.

The big question is whether there is enough time left to turn the 2013 season around and at least get Stewart into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. We’re talking about a three-time champion here, but remember he has missed the Chase before. At the same time, Stewart has also barely made it into the Chase and then won the championship.

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If you don’t believe me, go look at the 2011 season.

Stewart’s challenge starting this weekend at Dover and carrying all the way through the final pre-Chase race at Richmond International Raceway is to maintain his position in the top 20 in points. He and his team have to work on getting some top fives to help with the points, but Stewart also needs to get a couple of wins to have a shot at one of the two wild-card spots for the 2013 Chase available to race winners ranked between 11th and 20th in the standings.

Sadly, last Sunday’s seventh-place finish at Charlotte was Stewart’s best finish of the season. He doesn’t even have a top-five finish in the 12 races that we’ve run. That is so uncharacteristic of him. Stewart isn’t picking up bonus points for leading laps, either.

So there’s another area he and his team are weak in.

They have a lot to fix in a very short period. The great news is that it is Stewart driving that No. 14 car. Last year was the exception, but historically in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, Stewart gets hot when the summer does. Darrell Waltrip always says that once the Indianapolis 500 is over and Stewart gets past it, he comes to life.

Stewart has been known for getting multiple wins, and, again, it’s going to take just that this year more than ever to get one of those wild-card spots for the Chase.

I think if he could at least get a couple wins, he’ll be OK making the Chase. If there was any way he could get that magical third win, then I would count him as a lock for the Chase.

That’s a tall order when you look at who is not in the top 10 that Stewart would have to leapfrog over. There’s Jeff Gordon. Then there are Kurt Busch and Joey Logano, who are both running really well right now. If that weren’t a steep enough hill, Stewart also has a guy by the name of Denny Hamlin back there who is really hustling right now to come back from his back injury and still make the Chase himself.

So all that combined makes for a pretty tall order for the No. 14 team.

Once again, in the plus column, it is Tony Stewart behind the wheel. If there is a driver out there who can turn things around by force of will and his God-given talents, look no further than one Anthony Wayne Stewart.
 

Tagged: Tony Stewart

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