For first-year owner and driver Tony Stewart, 2009 should be considered a success.
After turning a struggling organization into a championship contending organization in a year, Stewart has a lot to be proud of.
Both he and teammate Ryan Newman made the Chase for the championship and both finished in the top-10 of the standings.
Stewart led the championship standings since Dover in the spring, but has struggled in the Chase.
It all came to an end on Sunday with the Ford 400 in Homestead-Miami. Stewart was looking to end the year on a high note and carry momentum into the offseason.
Stewart has won at the South Florida race track twice before, so Stewart knew how to find victory lane.
On Friday during the first practice Stewart ran a total of 20 laps and his fastest lap was lap 20. A 31.4 second lap was good enough for sixth on speed charts. The team then started preparing for qualifying later in the afternoon.
Stewart was to go out 22nd on Friday for qualifying, Stewart put up a great lap, 31.3 seconds around the mile-and-a-half track. That fast lap had him taking the green in fifth position.
On Saturday the teams were looking to tune up the race car and get the handling right for the 400 mile event on Sunday.
They struggled just a bit in this practice with the handling of the race car they ran a total of 19 laps. Their fastest lap was the first lap as it was with many teams. A 32.5 second lap was only good enough for 23rd fastest on the speed charts.
The final practice of the weekend and of the season was crucial for teams to really dial in their race cars for race trim.
Stewart and his team ran a total of 38 laps in the final session. His fastest lap was his second. His fast lap of 32.8 seconds had him sitting 13th on the speed charts.
Now the focus was race day and ending the season on high note.
Early on Stewart was moving up from his fifth place starting spot. By Lap 25 he was in second place and cutting into leader Jimmie Johnson lead. Stewart took the lead on Lap 33 and began to pull away from Johnson.
During the first round of pit stops Stewart lost the lead with a slower pit stop, but he retook the lead on Lap 64.
On the first caution for Marcos Ambrose's spin, Stewart won the race off of pit road, but was unable to hold the lead on the restart. He fell back but began to make up the lost ground.
On Lap 117, contact between himself and Juan Pablo Montoya sent Montoya to the wall and Stewart on pit road for fresh new tires. He was 29th and sitting deep in traffic, the farthest back he had been all day long.
Stewart's car did not have a lot of damage so they were able to continue on. They were in the top 15 by Lap 148.
On Lap 156, Montoya and Stewart were running nose to tail, when Montoya came up behind and tagged Stewart. That sent Stewart spinning and caused slightly more damage than the last incident.
He ended up going a lap down after having a good car early in the race.
For Stewart his day was realistically over. The damage was done. They were able to get their lap back but it was too late. It was not the way they wanted to end the season as they finished 22nd .
Even with a disappointing race, Stewart has a lot to be proud of. They have accomplished a lot in 2009 more than anyone even expected. The 2010 season is looking very bright for this organization.
Check out Jen Preston’s Lugnut Report on Mark Martin.
Thanks to everyone who followed Jen Preston and I on our Lugnut Reports. They will be back in 2010 tracking your favorite drivers from Daytona to Homestead.