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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Parts are in place, now Stewart’s team faces steep challenge in 2009

The parts are coming together perfectly, just like a jigsaw puzzle, for Stewart-Haas Racing.

-- Drivers? Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, who I would qualify as great and solid drivers, respectively.
-- Sponsor money? Plenty of that, too, with Old Spice and Office Depot backing Stewart and Army soon to be announced as Newman’s sponsor.
-- Crew chiefs? Darien Grubb will come over from Hendrick Motorsports to be Stewart’s crew chief, and is a solid choice. No word on Newman’s crew chief yet, but I’ll assume a proven talent will be chosen.

Those are all the positives heading into 2009 for the Stewart-Haas team, and are good reason for Stewart to have hope his team will see success next year.

But before anyone starts predicting the team will make Victory Lane and compete for titles right off the bat, a harsh reality needs to be examined.

This is essentially a brand new team, which always presents challenges, regardless of the quality of the people involved. Haas-CNC Racing has been a complete joke this season, with its owner in prison and both of its cars at or below the top 35 in points for most of the year. It is essentially a field-filler team, with the exception of a couple good runs by Scott Riggs this year (Speaking of Riggs, remember when he was in the 10 car and an up-and-coming star who people said would win races? He seems to have regressed since then).

Stewart will likely dump most of the current team members and bring a ton of new guys into the shop, who will have to build more competitive cars to replace the current stable of garbage cars the team has been running in 2008. Then, he’s going to have to develop a relationship with his new crew chief after having an extremely tight one with Greg Zipadelli for the past decade.

Bottom line: Unless things magically align from the very start, which is highly unlikely, we may have seen Stewart’s last win for a while, unless he can pull another one out before leaving Joe Gibbs Racing.

If I know one thing about Stewart, it’s that he’s dedicated to winning. Add to that the fact he’s possibly the most talented driver on the track and I can pretty much guarantee you his team will eventually become a competitor and a winner.

But I don’t expect it to happen right off the bat, and the 2009 season may be very frustrating for Stewart, who is used to winning and may not be able to do so for a while.

And as part-owner, he won’t have the option of laying the blame anywhere but at his own feet if things don‘t go well.

Busy weekend for Brad Keselowski
Rochester Hills native is preparing for a busy weekend in Charlotte, where he will race in Friday’s Nationwide race and attempt to make his first Cup race in a Hendrick Motorsports car. Keselowski actually got some practice laps in last weekend at Talladega and was on standby to fill in for Casey Mears, whose girlfriend was on the verge of giving birth. But this will be his first official weekend running in Cup, and I have no doubt Brad is pumped up and ready to give his best effort.

Meanwhile, Keselowski fans back home can get a glimpse this weekend of an ARCA car from the Brad Keselowski Racing stable, when the team makes an appearance at the Northwood University International Auto Show in Midland, Michigan. Robb Brent, who drivers for Keselowski in Trucks and ARCA and is also a Northwood student, will be on hand at the show this weekend to sign autographs and talk to fans.

“I think this is an awesome opportunity to have a presence in the community where Robb attends college,” Keselowski said.

The auto show features more than 450 different vehicles and a classic car show, and runs Friday through Sunday on the campus of Northwood University.

A.J. now a super sub
After failing to come to terms with Red Bull Racing, A.J. Allmendinger is now the most requested man in the garage to fill a seat. He’ll drive this weekend in the #00 for Michael Waltrip Racing (which looks more and more like it’s going to dump Michael McDowell soon), then finish out the year in the #10 car for the GEM team, which dumped Patrick Carpentier after he failed to qualify at Talladega.

It’s clear Allmendinger has talent and is in demand, and the contract length dispute is the only reason he’s out at Red Bull. Look for him to announce his plans for next year very soon, and I hope it’s a decent ride so he actually gets a chance to use his talent and not just be lapped traffic.


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