NASCAR team preview: Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing surprised everybody with their performance in 2009, qualifying both team cars in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and getting four wins courtesy of team owner Tony Stewart. Now that they've got that experience under their belts you've got to expect bigger things in 2010. You would think Tony Stewart is a title contender this season, even more so than last year when he finished sixth in the championship. Teammate Ryan Newman is also better situated now that he has a year of experience with Tony Gibson at the helm, so his team should be better as well. Remember, he's already won a Daytona 500 so I would not be one bit surprised if Ryan is not one of the guys you have to contend with when we arrive in Daytona in a few weeks' time.
Having the support of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet is a big reason why Stewart got off to a fast start early last year — something that is uncharacteristic for him as he tends to be a late bloomer. Sure, they faltered a bit at the end, but you had to expect that for an organization that really started over in a big way in 2009. Everybody over there took on a huge undertaking at the end of 2008 to put this whole deal together, but they burned the midnight oil and really put things together. They fell a bit short during the Chase, but I think they'll be better prepared this coming season.
I spoke to Darian Grubb, crew chief for the No. 14 team, in Las Vegas during the end-of-year celebration and while he was excited to be there, he was equally excited about trying to get back home to plug a few new pieces in to this great new team they assembled. He knew they had to make a few player adjustments and a few improvements while keeping the nucleus intact. He had a lot of work to do in the offseason — nowhere near the undertaking of the previous season — and he was raring to go. I think this team will perform much better in 2010 than they did in 2009. They know what they can achieve; now they just have to go out there and do it.
Driver: Tony Stewart (Two-time Cup Series champion, 37 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Darian Grubb
Primary Sponsors: Office Depot, Old Spice, Burger King
There were plenty of skeptics who thought that Stewart's addition of a new title would slow him down. He might think of other business issues during the week, but there's only one business to address once the flag drops. Stewart registered 23 top-10 finishes in 2009 to tie the second-highest total of his career. He earned four wins and four poles while averaging a 12.3-position qualifying performance (his best since 2005). Stewart was remarkably consistent in his first year under the Stewart-Haas umbrella and raced inside the top 20 in 30 of 36 events.
Driver: Ryan Newman (Finished ninth in 2009 Cup standings, 13 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Tony Gibson
Primary Sponsors: U.S. Army, Tornados, Haas Automation
Newman shone brightly in his first year in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas ride. It didn't start out that way, though, as he raced outside the top 20 in four consecutive events to open the year. However, he had only six more runs outside the top 20 in the final 32 races. Along the way, he earned 15 top 10s, nearly double his 2008 total, and he had only one DNF in his new ride. He ran 20th or worse in three of his final four rides, a run that certainly won't carry over to 2010. How much better can Newman and the No. 39 team be in Year Two?
ByJorge A. Mondaca
While Stewart and Newman will be focused on 2010, all anybody will want to talk about is the future of SHR. Several big name free agents (Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick) have been linked with a move to the outfit in the future, so expect "silly season" questions to come often. That said, if big name free agents and expansion is in SHR's future, performance is a must. How will Newman and, most important, team owner Stewart handle the pressure? The answer will definitely impact their title hopes.