Stewart’s success, Edwards’ struggles biggest surprises of 2009
One thing was not so certain, and that was the fate of Tony Stewart, who was starting his first season as a team co-owner. He had taken over a team whose two cars, the #66 and #70, were bottom of the barrel and struggled to stay in the top-35 in 2008. Despite new drivers, new crew chiefs and a lot of help from Hendrick Motorsports, it seemed a tall task for the new Stewart-Haas Racing to have one or both of its drivers make the Chase.
So what happened?
The sure thing was a flop, and the big question mark turned into a resounding success. Funny how things work sometimes.
First, let’s look at the Edwards situation, which is indicative of a hugely disappointing year as a whole for the Roush operation. Matt Kenseth won the first two races, then struggled all year and missed the Chase. Jamie McMurray, with one foot out the door, has just one highlight when he won at Talladega. Greg Biffle made the Chase, but didn’t win all year and had no impact in the Chase. David Ragan, last year’s amazing success story when he surged and almost made the Chase, came back to reality hard in 2009, with only 2 top-10s all year.
Edwards has been the best of the bunch, and almost won at Talladega before he went flying, but 7 top-5s and 13 top-10s is pretty bad for a guy who won nine races last year. Point blank: The Roush cars, when compared the Hendrick cars, were just off. I’m not sure if the Roush cars went backward or the Hendrick cars went forward, but either way Jack needs his drivers and car and engine builders to step up big time in 2010. Whatever they did in 2009, they need to do the opposite because it just didn’t work.
Now on to Stewart, who I and many others in the media doubted could compete for wins and make the Chase. No way could a team as garbage as Haas-CNC transform in one year to a competitor.
I was wrong. By putting the right people in place and changing the whole atmosphere at the team, Stewart has a bang-up start with 4 wins, after just 1 win in 2008 with Joe Gibbs Racing. He actually improved his performance despite the switch, which is just amazing. Crew chief Darian Grubb, nabbed from Hendrick, is a big part of the successful transition, as well as the driver of course.
I recognize the importance of the Hendrick help, but that didn;t mean the SHR team would be an automatic success. Not every satellite team is a winner (the Yates cars have Roush help, but don’t do great; Gibbs’ support of Hall of Fame racing didn’t do much to help, etc.)
Having help from the best team in NASCAR is a factor, but solid performances by Stewart, Ryan Newman and both of their crews have turned a zero team into a contender, surprising many doubtful NASCAR fans in 2009.
I can't wait until 2010, when we'll see once again who surprises and who disappoints.