We’ve all heard the old sports cliché’, “There is no ‘I’ in team” and I agree 100 percent. There is, however, a “T” in team and that “T” stands for Tony — as in Tony Stewart. He is an incredible team leader who has vision and passion for racing. He kind of always knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go, so when the opportunity fell into his lap he jumped at it.
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I don’t think it is too far of a reach to say that right now in NASCAR, Stewart-Haas Racing is the biggest powerhouse in the sport. With the personnel that Tony has put within the organization and around himself, it really is no surprise what the organization has been able to accomplish.
When you add new crew chief Steve Addington and competition director Greg Zipadelli to a championship-winning organization, it’s a clear signal that Tony isn’t content to sit on his laurels and is always striving to improve.
These guys are meshing well with Tony Gibson, who is Ryan Newman’s crew chief. They also have Matt Borland, a former crew chief of Ryan’s who is a great engineer, as their VP of competition. The other unsung hero over there in my book is Ronnie Crooks. His nickname is “Dr. Who” for his magical shock packages he creates. He’s also done a lot of chassis design and development.
When you put all these guys together, well you have an incredible brain trust at Stewart-Haas Racing. The group is a classic example of a team. They all are like-minded and pulling in the same direction. Then when you put in a driver as smart as Stewart is with the God-given talent he has, well it’s the total package.
You have to give co-owner Gene Haas a lot of credit, too. He’s been in our sport a long time. He has a lot of passion for our sport. Unfortunately Gene wasn’t initially as successful in NASCAR as he envisioned he would be. The marriage of Tony Stewart and Gene Haas into Stewart-Haas Racing has to be one of the best success stories in all of NASCAR history.
Just think of the risk Tony took in leaving a championship-winning organization like Joe Gibbs Racing. He had a lot of people doubting he could pull it off and be successful. I was one of the few that were encouraging him to do it. It was sort of blindly obvious to me. You combine Tony’s smarts and ability with Gene’s resources and you have a perfect example of when I say, “Your 2 and my 2 make 5!”
It took a lot of confidence on Tony’s part to make that change. It’s confidence in your vision. It’s confidence in your new partner. And quite honestly, it’s confidence in yourself. One of Tony’s greatest assets, and he has many, is that Tony never lacks in confidence.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — Tony is the modern-day version of A.J. Foyt. Tony can climb in anything with four wheels and a steering wheel and win. It doesn’t matter if it’s stock cars, dirt cars or even go-karts. His huge passion for racing combined with, again, his God-given talent, make him truly one of a kind. The guy is what I call “hell of wheels” — he just gets into anything and goes fast. The guy can wheel anything and that’s what makes him so extraordinary.
The other great thing about Tony is that he is a people person. To be a great leader you have to have that ability — and Tony has it in spades. That’s why it was important to Tony to add Addington and Zipadelli into the Stewart-Haas family. They trust and believe in each other and when you have that chemistry on a team, well you are all but unstoppable.
So with his second win in five races in 2012, Tony jumps three spots in the points to fourth. He’s only 18 points behind leader Greg Biffle. Stop and think about this for a second: Tony has now won seven of the last 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup points races. He won five of the 10 Chase races in 2011 with crew chief Darian Grubb and already has won two of the first five races of 2012 with Addington.
Tony’s second team is no slouch, either. Newman finished seventh Sunday at Fontana. That jumped him and his team three spots in the points to 10th position. They are currently 40 points out of first place.
So my point is Tony has all the right people in the right places, but then add into that his strong affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. There are no finer engines and chassis in the sport than what Rick Hendrick and his group produce and supply to Stewart-Haas.
Tony is an entrepreneur that isn’t afraid to think outside the box. He’s successful behind the wheel of a race car or in running his other businesses, like Eldora Speedway. I think that is one of the most impressive things about Tony. Despite all his other interests and business ventures, when Tony puts that helmet on he becomes single-minded. Tony is the best I have ever seen at doing that.
I am also looking to have some fun with Tony on April 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. We are teaming up for a fundraiser for Motor Racing Outreach (MRO). He’ll be in his No. 14 car and I will be in a retro No. 11 Mountain Dew car. MRO is auctioning off four-lap rides with both Tony and myself. It promises to be a blast. You can learn more about it by going to www.charitybuzz.com.
Aside from Tony winning his second race of the year, there were some other interesting storylines that came out of Fontana. Look at all the pit-road issues Sunday — from the speeding penalties, to gasmen having problems, to tires rolling loose.
I think it is a byproduct of a couple things. That pit road is so big and those pit boxes are so long, I think the guys get reckless. Maybe with all that extra space during pit stops they might be letting their guard down and losing focus.
You won’t find that being the case this weekend in Martinsville. It’s the complete opposite of Fontana. It’s the tightest, smallest pit road we go to. There you have to be spot-on precise. There’s no margin of error at Martinsville Speedway.
I can also maybe think of one person even happier Sunday than race-winner Stewart and that would be Jimmie Johnson. Just think about the week he had. The Chief Appellate Officer rescinded that penalty (25 points and suspensions) levied on the No. 48 team in Daytona. The only thing he did uphold was the $100,000 fine on crew chief Chad Knaus.
So the team entered Sunday’s race knowing they get their 25 points back, plus they know they aren’t going to lose their crew chief and car chief for six races. After being wrecked on the start of Lap 2 in the Daytona 500, which led to a 42nd-place finish, Jimmie then went out put up two top-five finishes and a ninth-place finish. That had vaulted his Hendrick team all the way up to 11th in the points entering Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
And just to show that not everyone is against Jimmie, as some people like to think they are, the Racing Gods smiled on the No. 48 on Sunday. As it started to rain, the car developed a huge oil leak. If the race were to get restarted, that car wouldn’t have been able to finish the race without major, time-consuming repairs. The thing is, though, the rain never did stop and the race, having already run past the halfway point, was called and Jimmie finished 10th.
Now our five-time champion finds himself in ninth place in the points and only 39 points behind Biffle as we head to one of Jimmie’s all-time favorite tracks — Martinsville Speedway.
So I guess my point is, I don’t know where the horseshoe has been, but the No. 48 team has found it and put it back where it belongs.
Johnson’s team, as well as others before it, has to be thankful it is in a sport that has an appeal process. Actually it is a two-step process. Your first appeal goes before the three-member panel and then as a last resort, you can take your case to the National Stock Car Racing Commission Chief Appellate Officer for review.
It says a lot that our sanctioning body puts a process in place for your voice to be heard in review of a penalty. NASCAR instituted this policy knowing full well that it can work against it and in favor of the competitors. Officials are willing to stand up and take the heat if they have to.
The last thing I want to touch on is the points. Martinsville is our sixth race of the season; however, it will be the first race of the season where we qualify based on 2012 points.
NASCAR allows teams to use their points from the previous season to determine who automatically qualifies for the first five races of the current season. So for example, if you were in the top 35 in owners points at the end of 2011, you are guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races of 2012.
Some folks would argue that gives teams too big of an advantage and I agree. That said, I also think it is a bit of overkill. I can see allowing teams to use last year’s points going into Daytona. It is our biggest race of the year. It pays the biggest purse and has the biggest TV audience. But after that, come out of Daytona and the second race of the year is based on 2012 points.
Some of my friends argue with me that it should be at least the first three races of the year. If push came to shove, I would be OK with that, but I still maintain that five races are too many. So I wouldn’t mind NASCAR taking a look at that and see some kind of adjustment there.
So it’s on to Martinsville. The weather looks like it’s going to be absolutely beautiful there. I can’t wait to get up there and get some of their famous hot dogs. Trust me, those drivers can’t wait to get up there, win the race and leave there with that grandfather clock. It truly is one of the coolest trophies in all of motorsports.