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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don’t expect instant success from Tony Stewart’s new team

Two schools of thought are emerging about Tony Stewart’s chances at success this season, as he takes over his new role as driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The naysayers point to brand new teams of the past that have taken years to achieve consistency and get to Victory Lane. All the great teams of today struggled at the start, and there’s no reason Stewart will break that trend, they say. While some of these people may be overly pessimistic, I find it hard to argue with their overall premise -- because history doesn’t lie.

On the other side, there are the faithful Stewart fans who say Tony has done everything right so far with this team, lining up good drivers (himself and Ryan Newman), securing proper sponsorship and luring talented crew chiefs (Darien Grubb, Tony Gibson). Combine all those elements with Stewart‘s obvious hunger for victory, and the recipe is there for success right off the bat, these people say.

Everything these people are saying around Stewart’s offseason preparation is true, but there is a key factor they are ignoring. With the season kicking off just weeks from now, one thing is missing from this team that will severely inhibit it from having immediate success -- Chemistry.

Make no mistake: This is a brand new team. The Haas-CNC team from 2008 is gone, and little or nothing remains of that terrible team which battled unsuccessfully to stay in the top-35 in points all season.

I am not predicting a rough season based on last year’s pitiful performance by the #66 and #70 cars. I am predicting a rough season because no matter how great all the pieces are, there’s no guarantee they’re going to fit perfectly. Stewart had a great relationship with Greg Zipadelli for a decade, but how will he and Grubb mesh? Will Grubb be afraid to argue with Stewart about pit decisions because he is the team boss?

How many times in sports have we seen a team bring together a bunch of superstars, only to have them fail to reach glory? -- The 2004 Lakers dream team that lost to the Pistons in the NBA Finals comes to mind.

And beyond that, I’ve never been sold on Ryan Newman being a tremendous driving talent. He’s pretty great on qualifying day, but come Sunday he’s often turned in less-than-spectacular performances. After the Daytona 1-2 finish last year, both Newman and his teammate Kurt Busch pretty much fell off the radar and settled for mediocrity all year. Sure, the Dodges struggled in 2008, but you can’t completely take blame away from the driver.

Stewart is a great driver, and he will finish the year better than Newman, but I question whether he can make the Chase or win in his first year as a team owner. He will have a lot more to worry about than driving this year, as he’ll be keeping tabs on every aspect in the organization. There is a reason there hasn’t been a driver-owner who has won the Cup since Alan Kulwicki -- it’s really hard to compete with the big boys when you’re both the boss and the pilot. That’s even more true now than in Kulwicki’s day, as the mega teams have only gotten stronger since then.

SHR’s best chance for early success is at Daytona and Talladega, where the restrictor plates let anyone compete for a win. But everywhere else they go early in 2009, look for the SHR cars to be playing catch-up. It’s only natural: New teams need time to adjust. Even someone as talented as Stewart can’t change that fact. Late in the year, I wouldn’t count out a surge, but even that might be optimistic.

I’m not saying it’s completely out of the realm of possibility that Stewart will buck history and reach the stars right out of the gate, but I wouldn’t bet your lunch money on it.

A.J. officially signed
Richard Petty Motorsports has officially signed A.J. Allmendinger for 2009 and 2010, but there’s a catch -- there’s no guarantee the needed sponsorship will come through for the full season. All that’s guaranteed right now is A.J. will drive the #44 for 9 races, plus the Bud Shootout. Beyond that, it’s up in the air.

Though he was expected to drive the car already, it was the right move to make it official. Now I hope A.J. can put on a great performance in early 2009 like he did at the end of 2008 and draw some sponsors. It would be a shame if he were on the sidelines while less-talented drivers like Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler were driving at his own team.

Yates should dump Gilliland
Everyone thought David Gilliland was on the outs at Yates Racing, but apparently that isn’t so. He is under contract, but there’s no ride for him. If it were me, I’d just rip up that contract. Gilliland showed his true colors during his ridiculous on-track assault of Juan Pablo Montoya last season, and has never been a solid driver in Cup. Letting him go is really the only logical choice. Even if the funds came through for another car, Travis Kvapil still needs full-season sponsorship and he could use it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put me in the category of one who thinks the Stewart team will enjoy success from the start. Newman and Stewart both know how to win races, both have experienced crew chiefs who either have won races or came from in Gibson's case a team that at one time was a winning team, both are driving cars coming right out of Hendrick Motor Sports along with all the tech support they need. This is radically different than most any start up teams in recent memory where you have weak links in the chain.

January 29, 2009 at 5:47 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can put me in that category as well, but one thing i saw that i didnt agree with was you said the last driver/owner to win a race was Alan Kulwicki, That is not true actually the last owner/driver to win a race is Bill Elliott.

January 29, 2009 at 10:48 AM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

What I wrote was that Kulwicki was the last to win the championship, but you're right about Elliott winning races as an owner/driver. Even using that example, that was a long time ago.

January 29, 2009 at 11:29 AM 

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