NASCAR's Tony Stewart: Trouble with Two Teams Makes Three Unlikely

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMay 13, 2010

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 07:  Tony Stewart (L), driver of the #14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet speaks with crew chief Darian Grubb (R), during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 7, 2010 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

For 11 years Old Spice sponsored Tony Stewart and recently they announced their relationship would end after the current season.

They had been the primary sponsor for 14 races and Office Depot was the primary sponsor during the majority of the season for the No. 14 Chevy driven by Stewart.

Stewart is feeling first-hand the relationship between sponsorship, performance, and the economy.  As an owner/driver it suddenly has more impact than it did when he just hopped in his race car and did appearances for sponsors when required.

Stewart-Haas racing seemed to hit the mother-lode with the success he found as a driver and owner in 2009.  His statistics proved to be a bit of an anomaly for a brand new team.

In his first year, Stewart had four wins, 15 top-fives, and finished sixth in points.  Ryan Newman, his teammate, made the Chase finishing in ninth place with 15 top-10 finishes in 2009.

Now as the performance of Stewart seems to have hit a rough patch, sponsors will watch closely.

For reasons that seem to elude Stewart and his crew chief Darian Grubb, the team is floundering as the driver of the No. 14 ranks 18th in points.

In 11 races he has had three top-10 finishes, but two straight 23rd place finishes hit him hard in the points.

Recently, while doing a promotional gig at Charlotte Motor Speedway he stated that he and Darian Grubb were in the "Twilight Zone" trying to figure out what was wrong with the performance of the No. 14.

Stewart and Newman like different set-ups for their cars and have different driving styles.  Trying to play off of each other is difficult because of the variances between the two cars.

Stewart is not a fan of testing, but he did go to Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia in an attempt to find solutions to their conundrum.

It is tricky to throw experiments at the car when points are at stake and the season is going by quickly.

Stewart and Grubb are confident they can figure out the problem and get his car in the Chase this year.  Typically, Stewart runs better in the summer stretch.

Dover will be a good test for the Stewart-Haas teams.  Stewart has two wins there and 10 top-five finishes with an average finish of 11.5.  It is imperative Stewart doesn't get hammered by the Monster and somehow pulls off a decent finish.

Grubb is one of the best crew chiefs in NASCAR having served a stint at Hendrick Motorsports.  In 2006 he served as Jimmie Johnson's crew chief during Chad Knaus' suspension. 

The economy has certainly thrown a foul ball at NASCAR teams, track owners, and of course fans.  Performance is key to keeping and attracting quality sponsors.

Stewart is going to have his hands full trying to get both his cars fully sponsored and more competitive.

He has denied that a third team is part of his game plan at Stewart-Haas.  Only if the right opportunity came along would he consider it.

The rumor mill has Kasey Kahne going to Stewart-Haas for the one year he is in limbo prior to assuming his full-time ride at Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

With the dilemma Stewart faces currently, it would seem highly unlikely Kahne will become a driver under the Stewart-Haas banner even if Rick Hendrick is pulling the strings and calling the shots.

Perhaps some highly recognizable sponsor is ready to splatter their logo all over Kahne's car for one year, but that just sounds like pure foolishness.

There is no doubt Stewart made a good decision when he decided to become an owner/driver.  To expect him to perform as he did in 2009 every year is overly optimistic.

Reality for Stewart-Haas is somewhere between his current quagmire and the glory of 2009.  Make no mistake, Stewart will remain a strong contender in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

Though he turns management duties over to his people when he goes into driver mode, he still will be a first-class team owner.  His experience with his other ventures proves he is a successful businessman.

So as the two teams at Stewart-Haas look for wins that seem to be escaping them, it would appear a third team is not in the cards for this operation in 2011.  Ryan Newman's one win is hardly enough to carry them.

One never knows what tricks Rick Hendrick can pull out of his hat.  An announcement will need to be made relatively soon concerning the placement of our pal Kahne in the year 2011.

We wonder if Stewart will get custody of all those white Old Spice towels he throws over his shoulder in every interview.

Hopefully he can use them as cleaning rags rather than crying towels.