The Hot Pass: Stewart pleased by team’s results

Last season at Phoenix, the final pieces of the Stewart-Haas Racing puzzle had all come together.

The drivers were set. Crew chiefs and sponsors were all on board. But the greatest unknown — performance — still remained.

Fast forward one year. Both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were both consistent enough to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Keeping track

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

Stewart Haas Racing

2009 at a glance


Starts
Wins
Top fives
Top 10s
Laps led
34
4
15
23
371

The old axiom that a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client does not hold true for Stewart. Functioning as both owner and driver has offered him the best of two worlds. The two-time Cup champ has thrived in his new situation. He assumed the points lead 13 races into the season, won four races and remained there for the next 12 events.

Although the No. 14 Chevrolet slipped to fifth in the point standings since the start of the playoffs and Newman trails his boss by four positions, Stewart says, “it’s hard to be disappointed no matter where we end up” because the teams have exceeded most pundits’ expectations.

“We knew on paper that it was possible, but the reality of it was going there and competing against great race teams every week,” Stewart said. “So to be able to accomplish this goal has been an awesome year for us.

“It’s still no different than it was when everybody talked to us after Richmond about losing a 200-point lead of whatever it was. We knew that when we took the point lead. We knew that’s what the situation was. We’re not disappointed because of that. It just shows that we still have work to do.”

Newman agrees with Stewart’s assessment. After spending eight seasons with an established organization at Penske Racing, Newman was faced with a new crew chief, new crew and new cars under the Chevrolet banner.

Although he has yet to win this season, Newman has started from the pole twice and posted five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. For Newman, it’s not so much a feeling of disappointment, it’s simply the desire true racers have to want more.

“We may not be totally satisfied, and that’s just because we’re not standing at the lead table in Las Vegas this year,” Newman said. “We’ve done a lot of great things as an organization.

Keeping track

Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman

Stewart Haas Racing

2009 at a glance


Starts
Wins
Top fives
Top 10s
Laps led
34
0
5
15
213

“We’ve done a lot of great things as drivers to get to where we are, and for me personally to make the big change and obviously Tony as well, didn’t have any idea what to expect, just knew that I wanted to go out there and have fun, and if we had fun, we were going to be successful one way or another.”

After assembling two squads from scratch, testing could have expedited the learning process among the SHR personnel. However, with access to Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis, most of the guesswork was removed from the mechanical variables of the equation.

“It has been consistent from Day One,” Stewart said, “as soon as we made the commitment that this was what we were going to do. And as soon as Darian Grubb came aboard (from Hendrick), I think that was the biggest key in making sure that it was a smoother transition.

“Darian knows the system and the people involved, and I think that with that came the trust from their side of knowing they had somebody that they could trust that’s been there for a long time and is passionate about Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Although Stewart doesn’t feel there are any stark weaknesses in the program, he said in the offseason the company will concentrate on making the “cars lighter” and the “bodies better.” Stewart added SHR will use its resources to find every possible advantage on the cars. He expects to come out fighting for Speedweeks at Daytona in February.

“We were able to exceed our expectations for the year, but at the same time we won’t stop at that,” Stewart said. “We’ll keep pushing to be better and to try to be where the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) team and the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) team and the No. 5 (Mark Martin) team and all these great race teams that we’re competing against and that we’re racing for points.

“Those are the guys that we want to try to figure out just like they do of how to be better and how to win more races and try to put ourselves in position to win next year.”

On a related note, SHR signed Ruiz Food’s Tornados brand to sponsor Ryan Newman for five races in 2010 and 2011.

MWR continues to sow

Michael Waltrip Racing started the Saturday morning festivities by announcing plans for Trevor Bayne, an up-and-coming 18-year-old racer, along with a partnership with former Cup Series owner Gary Bechtel.

But the news from MWR just kept coming.

Toyota announced an extension and continued support to MWR through 2012. For Lee White, president and GM of Toyota Racing Development, the decision was simple.

“In 2007, TRD was green in the sport and Michael Waltrip Racing was just starting and it was just Michael (Waltrip) and Ty (Norris, vice president and general manager) and Bobby Kennedy (operations manager) and it’s fun that you guys are still there,” White said. “I know you’ve added Rob Kauffman (co-owner), Cal Wells (executive vice president and chief operating officer), Steve Hallam (vice president and director of competition) and some great talent and improved your program, which has really helped improve our program.

downlevel description

This video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.

“We’re excited to be extending. We still consider them valuable partners.”

White noted it was MWR that gave Toyota its first “TRD-built engine victory” following David Reutimann’s win in the Coca-Cola 600. And he was proud of the addition of Bayne to MWR’s program and looked forward to the inclusion of Martin Truex Jr. next season.

For Waltrip, there’s nothing like manufacturer security, particularly in this challenging global economy.

“It gives us a chance to know that within this garage area, our manufacturer is behind us, they support us and they’re going to be with us for many years to come,” Waltrip said. “The fact that we’re sitting in front of you talking about the fact that we have a manufacturer that’s committed to us for the future is something that I’m very proud of.”

In addition to the competition side of the sport, MWR has been savvy on the marketing end as well. Waltrip later returned to announce Best Western renewed its partnership with MWR and Reutimann. Best Western will sponsor the No. 00 Toyota at Phoenix next April and serve as an associate sponsor throughout the rest of the season.

Southern hospitality

After making his NASCAR debut in Montreal earlier this season, Alex Tagliani took his Nationwide Series show on the road to Phoenix with Pat MacDonald’s team to try his hand on an oval.

Although Tagliani wadded up the No. 81 Dodge during qualifying, the team was able to get out a backup and roll off 41st for the former open wheeler’s second NNS start.

Say what?

Kevin Buckler, principal owner of TRG Motorsports, made it official on Saturday that Bobby Labonte would drive the No. 71 next season. Buckler added he hopes to run a second Cup team in 2010. Although he expects another “Black Monday” following the season finale at Homestead next weekend, Buckler says TRG “will be hiring people.”

“We’re looking at having the strongest, toughest team we can, probably sub of 30 people,” Buckler said. “We’re north of 20 people right now. We’ll be hiring some more. I imagine most of the guys will be staying. They’ve done a real good job for us. But there’s going to be some big layoffs. There’s going to be blood in the streets.”