Fantasy NASCAR: Stewart Haas Racing 2011 Season Preview

Brandon Croce@@BrandonCroceAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

We are a little over a month away from the first and biggest race in the 2011 NASCAR season, the Daytona 500. Leading up to the start of the season I will be talking about a number of different drivers and what you need to know for the upcoming season, so check back regularly. This week I will be talking about Stewart-Haas Racing and more specifically Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.

Tony Stewart

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Car Number: 14

Crew Chief: Darian Grubb

Tony Stewart is entering his 13th season and 3rd as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. The 2009 season started off great for Stewart as owner/driver, winning four races and 23 top-10 finishes. However, he faltered during the Chase and finished sixth in the point standings. In the three of the final four races he didn’t finish higher than 22nd and lost the championship to Jimmie Johnson. That season he had an average finish just outside the top 10 at 10.4 and an average start at 12.4.

Last year Stewart didn’t have nearly as much success winning only two races, the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Pepsi Max 500 at Auto Club Speedway and finishing in the top-10 17 times. He had an average start of 13.2 each race and an average finish of 13.9. Now from the looks of these numbers it may look like Smoke may be losing some of his magic but he did have some positives that could point towards a bounce back year this year. First is that he actually led more laps last season (537) than in 2009 (414). Stewart also very rarely wrecks and misses laps. In 2009 he only missed 24 laps and in 2010 he missed only 30 over 36 races each season. These two stats are a result of Tony Stewart usually running in the front of the pack and he is able to miss the big wrecks because of that. Another positive that can be taken from last year was that Tony Stewart finally won a pole, the first time this has happened since March 2006. He actually ended up winning two poles last season.

2011 Outlook: I think the future is bright for Tony Stewart and his racing team. He is entering his 3rd season as owner/driver and should have worked out all the kinks that have popped up over the last two years. This will also be his third season with Darian Grubb as crew chief, who previously worked for Hendrick Motorsports, and teammate Ryan Newman. There is a lot to be said for consistency and building trust with your crew chief and teammates. It is tough to bet against Jimmie Johnson next year for the championship but Tony Stewart should be considered a dark horse candidate to dethrone Jimmie.

Ryan Newman

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Car Number: 39

Crew Chief: Tony Gibson

Tony Stewart has shown over the years to be a consistent driver, where he may not win every race but will be competitive, run most laps and will finish in the top 10 in points for the season. Ryan Newman on the other hand has struggled ever since winning eight races in 2003. In the seven years since then he has only won five races. Last year he won one race, the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Speedway. He does very well at this trace as he also finished second later in the season. Ryan Newman isn’t a bad option for fantasy owners but they need to pick their spots when they use him because he does have race tracks that he does very well at. For example over the last two years since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, he has finished in the top ten three out of four times at the following race tracks: Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville.

Another issue that Ryan Newman has had during his career is his inability to avoid crashes. Last season he had four DNFs and has had as many as nine in one season, back in 2007. The problem with all the DNFs is that he is a much riskier pick as you don’t know if he will be able to finish the race. This also doesn’t help his average finish, which wasn’t bad at 15.7 last year. However, this is one stat that has improved when he switched to Stewart-Haas Racing. In 2008, the year before he joined the team, his average finish was 20.8.

2011 Outlook: Ryan Newman has the talent to be a top driver in NASCAR and he showed it back in 2003 when he won eight races. The problem is he hasn’t been able to show it since then consistently. He has too many DNFs, doesn’t win enough and doesn’t lead enough laps to be considered a viable fantasy option leading into this season. However, he will have his moments where he will be successful but it all depends on the track, so pay attention to that before just plugging him in to your lineup.