Friday, February 6, 2009

The Debut of Stewart-Haas Racing

February always brings a time of new promise for everyone who's involved in NASCAR.  That includes not only the drivers, but the crews, the owners, the sponsors, and yes, even you, the fans.   If you are reading this column, then there is a very good chance that you are a NASCAR fan, and as a fan, you are a very important part of the sport.  Think about it, without fans, these would just be a bunch of guys driving the family cars around in circles in a cow pasture somewhere.

But, since I digress, as I often do, one of the most exciting changes in the Sprint Cup series for 2009 is the brand spanking new Stewart-Haas Racing team.  SHR, co-owned by Tony Stewart, Joe Custer and Gene Haas has a brand new look and some serious attitude in abundant supply going into 2009.  

Tony Stewart is not only a new driver for the team, he is also a majority owner.  Tony has always been known for his determination to win, and now that he owns a piece of the company, he will likely be more driven than ever to win.  Tony Stewart will be driving the 14 Chevrolet sponsored by Office Depot, Old Spice, and Burger King.  The '14' number didn't happen by accident.  Tony Stewart's hero A.J. Foyt drove that number during his days as a NASCAR driver.  A.J. Foyt will be at Daytona to celebrate Stewart's debut as a team owner, and if that doesn't get Tony fired up, nothing will.  As if Tony Stewart needs much of anything to get him fired up!

The other entry in the Stewart-Haas Racing effort is no other than former Penske driver Ryan Newman.  Ryan has won an incredible 43 poles in his 260 starts in Cup racing.  He also has 13 wins, including the 2008 Daytona 500.  Ryan is a college graduate with a degree in engineering, and though he's rarely emotional on camera, he obviously has some serious skills as a driver and competitor.  Because he is not outspoken, he tends to fly under the radar, so to speak.  Ryan goes about his business in a quiet, but determined manner.  He seems to be the perfect complement to Tony Stewart's often blustery personality.  Ryan Newman is from South Bend, Indiana, the state which is also the home of Tony Stewart.  Whether this had anything to do with these two drivers forming the new team is not entirely known, but I wouldn't doubt that it is more than a coincidence.

Tony Stewart is obviously no slouch in the performance department either.  Tony is your 2002 and 2005 Sprint Cup champion, and has 33 Cup wins to his credit.  Tony is a champion in the Indy series as well, and has won championships in many other series.  Tony Stewart has won races in all three of NASCAR's top series and charges just as hard on a dirt track in front of 1,500 fans as he does on a NASCAR track in front of 225,000 fans and millions of TV viewers.

Stewart-Haas also brings some serious talent to the pit box as well.  Tony Gibson, who lately was the crew chief for Mark Martin and Aric Almirola at Dale Earnhardt Inc. will be the crew chief for Ryan Newman in the 39 US ARMY Chevrolet.  Tony was also a crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for several races at DEI.  Having listened to Gibson talking to his drivers on the radio over the last couple of seasons, it's obvious that he's a cool operator, much as his driver is.  The ability to never lose one's cool often determines whether a race is won or lost.  The combination of Gibson and Newman should be about as good as they come.

Tony Stewart will have a man for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect on top of his pit box for 2009.  His name is Darian Grubb, and he is a Daytona 500 winning crew chief with Hendrick in 2006.  At the time, he was filling in for the suspended Chad Knaus, and during that time he helped Jimmie Johnson win not only the Daytona 500, but also the Las Vegas race 2 weeks later.  In 2007, Grubb was on the pit box when Casey Mears won his first race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Concord, NC.  Darian probably would have been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief in 2008 had Dale not brought Tony Eury Jr. with him from DEI.  Being a crew chief for Tony Stewart has to be a situation that is exciting to both Tony and Darian.  Grubb will bring a wealth of experience from his years at Hendrick Motorsports to the new Stewart-Haas Racing team.  This fact, as it turns out, is important on so many levels.

You see, Stewart-Haas Racing, as has Haas Racing in the past, will be using Hendrick equipment.  Stewart-Haas will not just be leasing engines, they will enjoy a ton of technical support from Hendrick in 2009.  Technically, the 14 and the 39 cars should be every bet as good as the 5, the 24, the 48, and 88 cars in 2009.  With crew chiefs Gibson and Grubb in charge, this new team could do great things in the new season.

With the combination of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman as drivers for the new team, expectations are high, and I personally doubt that with the combined talent of the drivers and crews, accompanied with Hendrick support, that Stewart-Haas Racing will have a very successful first year.

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