Last July Tony Stewart held a press conference to announce that he would leave the only organization he had ever raced for Joe Gibbs Racing and take 50% ownership in the struggling HAAS Automation.
They would be renamed Stewart Haas Racing and soon after Ryan Newman was announced as his teammate.
Many didn’t expect this team to come out of the box on fire, let alone be contenders but SHR has surprised many, just not themselves.
We all know Tony Stewart has talent, two time Sprint Cup champion but his decision to leave JGR left many wondering if even he could take an organization that had yet to see a victory and struggle every week at the track to compete.
Could he really turn this organization around in eight months?
The resounding answer: Yes.
Stewart came out of the box on fire. Stewart historically has run well at restrictor plate tracks and that was no different at Daytona where he finished eighth, he also finished eighth at California. The team struggled at Las Vegas but got right back on track at Atlanta and Bristol.
Stewart then went on a stretch of three consecutive top five finishes culminating with a second at Phoenix.
Stewart has been the model of consistency so far in 2009; he leads the series with nine top 10’s.
Coming into Pocono this weekend Stewart carries the most momentum with an All-Star race victory and a second place finish in Dover last week that pushed him to the points standing lead.
Speaking of points; Stewart is the second driver/owner to lead the points since Alan Kulwicki. This is also the earliest Stewart has led the points in his career.
Stewart credits most of his success to bringing in the right people for support.
For the first trimester of the season I am giving Stewart an B+. I know he hasn’t won a race yet, but Stewart has been the best car out there every week.
They still have minor issues to work out on pit road that have cost them not only time on pit road but the chance to collect some wins.
Overall sitting in the points lead and will win any week now, they have been just that good.
For Ryan Newman his leaving Penske Racing was not a surprise, leaving Penske to join SHR was a bigger surprise. Stewart and Newman have a lot in common away from the track, but nobody knew that these two as teammates would be successful.
For Newman 2009 didn’t start off as easy as it did for Stewart, a poor qualifying started him 36th and that’s where he finished. Another poor run at California and this team was in danger of falling below the top 35 in points.
Newman season didn’t start to turn around until Bristol where he finished seventh. Slowly he began to rise in the standings, a fourth place finish at Darlington, Newman was moving forward on the track and in the standings.
Newman’s best finish was second in the Coca-Cola 600 although it was a rain shortened event. After Dover, Newman has worked his way up to fifth in the standings and a weekly contender.
A major turnaround for a team that just five races in was struggling with bad luck, poor pit stops and ill handling race cars.
So far with four top five’s and seven top 10’s and an average finish of 13.5. Newman and team are quickly moving forward.
Like Stewart they too are really close to winning but need to eliminate the mistakes they are making. For the first trimester I am giving Newman a B.
Early on in the season he wasn’t very good, but since Bristol he has come on in a big way. Newman looks the best he has looked since his huge breakout year in 2003.
Overall for SHR it has been a good first trimester. They have good people and strong program behind them. There engines and chassis are supplied by Hendrick Motorsports so they have plenty of power behind them.
Stewart has hired Hendrick support both on top of the box and in the garage. But the sheer talent between the two is what has caused the turnaround.
I give them overall a B+. They will collect multiple wins and both should make the chase this season.
Notes: The opinions expressed here are of the writer only