Oh to be Tony Stewart. Since his announcement in 2008 that he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to become an owner/ driver at what was then known as Haas- CNC Racing, every move he’s made has been the right one.
The people were right: Stewart and fellow Hoosier Ryan Newman are simpatico. Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson are good fits as crew chiefs. Bobby Hutchens blends right in as good management. And then there’s the equipment- can you get any better than the support you get from Rick Hendrick?
On the track, Stewart was points leader heading into the Chase. Smoke became the hero of the old school, rough ‘n’ ready set. Week after week after week, he logged one strong performance after another, and he logged four wins in his first season away from Joe Gibbs.
Then, as the Chase unfolded, offering a convenient Exhibit “A” for Chase haters. Stewart tailed off, and more the conspiracy theorist, the argument that the support he was getting from HMS at crunch time was becoming second-rate at crunch time. A bogus argument, but hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good story ;).
Though his success was nowhere near what his bosses’ was, Ryan Newman found a new lease on life. He made the Chase- a surprise to some- and he just looked the part of a happier driver. While he didn’t win, Newman was in a position to win several races, and that was a step up from his days at Penske, where he was rather visibly frustrated, in spite of his 2008 Daytona win (his last Cup victory). Newman goes into 2010 with revitalized vigor and looking for ways to keep moving onward and upward.
This team is living large. They’ve had little trouble landing sponsors, both the “14” and “39” are firing on all cylinders, and there are no apparent question marks heading into 2010.
Oh wait, I guess there’s two: #1- When will this organization expand to three teams? and #2- Who will fill the seat? The odds on favorite would appear to be Stewart buddy Kevin Harvick, whose contract is up after the season. The truth is, Stewart has a nice selection to pick from, and any number of willing volunteers.
Whichever the case, chances are that team will be a hit, given this team’s mojo. The law of averages suggest he’ll one day deal with all the downsides of ownership, but for right now, he’s living the life of Riley.
It’s good to be Tony Stewart.
PHOTO CREDITS- Tony Stewart celebrates all-star win/ NASCAR Media. Newman with Stewart by Jerry Markland. Photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR.