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Monday, April 20, 2009

Talladega offers Stewart great chance for first win with new team

Watch out for Tony Stewart this weekend.

Though he started the year as a big question mark, the two-time champ has shown his new team, which might as well be owned by Rick Hendrick it’s so connected, is a competitor for race wins and the title this year.

What was the terrible Haas-CNC Racing last year is now the formidable Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart has finished 8th or better in 6 of 8 races in 2009, and sits just 104 points behind points leader Jeff Gordon. Even Ryan Newman, after a tough start to the year, is doing a lot better lately.

And where are we going next week? … Talladega, a track where Stewart has 1 win and 9 top-5 finishes in 20 starts. Though he isn’t always the victor, you can count on Stewart being up front at Dega every time the circuit goes there.

With the hot streak he has going right now, the recipe is perfect for Stewart to break into the win column with his new team, despite the many odds that he faced at the start of the season.

But looking back, it appears all the doubters, including myself, got it wrong. History said that owner-drivers can’t really contend for titles, and I predicted he might struggle at first.

What I failed to realize was that Stewart’s situation is different.

Unlike someone like Robby Gordon, or Alan Kulwicki in the past, Stewart was basically offered a free ownership stake in the struggling Haas-CNC team. Upon his arrival, top talent like ex-Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Darien Grubb came over to the new Stewart-Haas team. Throw in the use of Hendrick engines and bodies, plus sharing of information from Hendrick’s organization, and we have something that has evolved far beyond a satellite team. Hendrick and Stewart-Haas are basically joined at the hip.

So while Stewart didn’t officially move to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, he kind of did it anyway.

Tony Stewart is not your classic Cup series owner-driver in any way. He’s not like Joe Nemechek, worrying about every part used and hoping it doesn’t bust his tiny budget. When he gets behind the wheel, he is strictly a driver, and that’s not the case for a true owner-driver.

This may be essentially a brand new team, but it’s one that is so connected to Hendrick it was destined to succeed from the start -- especially with a driver as talented as Stewart behind the wheel of its lead car.

And barring a “big one” knocking him out of the race, you can bet that Tony Stewart will be in the lead pack battling for the top spot as the laps wind down at Talladega.


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