When Tony Stewart won the 2009 Sprint All-Star race as a driver-owner, it was like experiencing victory for the first time all over again. Stewart had just driven his own operation; Stewart-Haas Racing into victory lane for the first time, bringing crewmembers with him that had never been there before.
The emotions of what that night meant were clearly visible on Stewart’s face in victory lane and in his interviews. The win set in motion a year that almost had him clinch his second Sprint Cup Series title after he went onto win four more races, led the points most of the year, but finished sixth overall.
On the other hand the second car his started for Ryan Newman also made the Chase, ending the year ninth in the standings. Stewart however, got most of the attention because of what he personally accomplished. But upon starting his new company Stewart hired a close friend in Newman and someone he knew would be able to get the job done.
One reason he knew that? Because it had been Newman a year earlier that passed him for the win in the Daytona 500.
Walking away from a championship winning company in Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart made a life changing decision. But it was a decision that he knew he couldn’t pass up and wasn’t about to let slip through his fingers now that the opportunity arose and at the conclusion of 2009 it looked like it had paid off.
There was just one thing missing in order to make it all complete: Newman in victory lane.
Following the Subway Fit Fresh 600 at Phoenix Saturday night, Stewart can once again say, “I did it.” Newman capped a 77 race winless streak when he took the lead from Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checkered finish and brought home his first win since that Daytona 500. It was also the first win for his crew chief Tony Gibbson.
Newman’s victory lane celebration looked just as Stewart’s did almost a year ago: lots of confetti, plenty of liquid showers, and tons of happy people. Competitors such as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson came by to congratulate Newman on his victory as he gave his wining interview to FOX.
Then came the boss.
In what can only be described as an up-and-down day for Stewart, he was still able to leave Phoenix with a smile on his face and a satisfied feeling. As a car owner he had now shown everyone that he had two teams that were more than just good looking on paper.
They were now both race winning and championship contending teams in a big way. Since Newman has finally locked up his first win with the company, that’s always the hardest to get, there should be many more around the corner and 2010 could be a big year for both drivers.
The two shared a moment in victory lane that Newman was asked about, what he said revealed a lot about the pair’s friendship and Stewart as a car owner. “He’s so proud of me, told me he loved me and I told him I loved him back,” Newman told the world.
As mentioned, Newman was a perfect hire for Stewart being they know each other well on and off the racetrack. In his sixth place championship speech at the awards banquet in 2009, Stewart made note that away from the track Newman, “gets me in trouble.”
Saturday at Phoenix there was no trouble as Newman made his boss and owner a happy guy. “It’s his name, I’m representing him and a lot of people behind us.”
Going to victory lane as a driver is one feeling, one Stewart experienced numerous times in 2009, but seeing another car you own pull into the winners circle brings a new side to things. Being able to celebrate with a driver that you helped get there, even when you’re day resulted in a 23rd place finish, makes it all worth it.
The fruits of Stewart’s labor and the life changing decision have paid off, his mission has been accomplished of getting both cars to victory lane. Being a car owner has come full circle since the May night in the All-Star victory lane. All of this gives fans a chance to see a new side of Stewart, the one that now will visit winning driver for more than a friendly congratulatory handshake.
It's going to be to tell someone how proud and how much he loves them.
Thanks to Ryan Newman, Saturday at Phoenix showed Stewart that even when he loses, he still wins. Tony Stewart has plenty more victory lane celebrations ahead of him as he looks to become one of NASCAR's most successful driver-owners.