The Frontstretch: Driver Review: Tony Stewart by Mike Neff -- Tuesday January 8, 2008

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Driver Review: Tony Stewart

Mike Neff · Tuesday January 8, 2008

 

Tony Stewart
2007 Ride: No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet
2007 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2007 Primary Sponsor: Home Depot
2007 Crew Chief: Greg Zipadelli

Stats: 36 Races, 3 Wins, 11 Top 5s, 23 Top 10s, 6th in points.

High Point: Stewart typically uses the summer to heat up his season – and this year was no exception. During a four-race stretch in July and August, he won three races and finished sixth in the other, emerging as the most serious challenger to Hendrick Motorsports for the title. Among those wins was a second Brickyard 400 triumph; and with Stewart a native Hoosier, finishing first at Indianapolis will always be the highest point in his season.

Low Point: Stewart is beginning to look a lot like Dale Earnhardt at Daytona; he has been the dominant car during Speedweeks on multiple occasions, but can never seem to seal the deal when it comes to the biggest race in NASCAR. This season was no exception; Stewart started February’s race with the car to beat, and led 35 laps in the race early. Remaining a contender throughout, he was battling for the lead once again when he was taken out in a crash with Kurt Busch – the only other car who could compete with the No. 20. They combined to lead 130 of the race’s 200 laps; but after the wreck, Stewart was scored 43rd in the finishing order, just two positions behind the No. 2 of Busch.

Summary: Stewart started the year by winning the Bud Shootout and looking strong early in the Daytona 500, only to crash out and finish last. However, Stewart fought back hard and had 18 Top 10 finishes leading into the Chase, including three wins, to begin the playoffs ranked third in the standings. A streaky Stewart immediately became the trendy pick to take his third title in six years; however, a 39th place finish at Kansas basically eliminated him from the championship fight thanks to the torrid pace that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson set throughout the final ten races of the season. Stewart did finish the year sixth in points, but that was small consolation for a year that appeared to slip away due to a controversial call by NASCAR.

Stewart’s tradition of climbing the fence following victories continued in 2007 – here, he’s shown responding to fans following his Brickyard 400 march up the fence – er, march to victory.

As the story goes, Smoke was leading that Kansas race when rain came pouring down on the track for hours; with not enough time to finish the full distance, it appeared he’d be handed the win. However, NASCAR chose to restart the race with a limited window of daylight instead; within two turns of the ensuing restart, a multi-car accident ensured, damaging the No. 20 and causing a tire rub that would lead to his crash later on in the event. Ironic, considering Stewart was reprimanded earlier this season for criticizing the sport’s decisions to throw caution flags for debris – a misstep he was forced to apologize publicly for the following weekend.

2008 Outlook: The coming year is going to be a big test for Stewart and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs racing team. After a long courting process, the organization is switching to Toyotas for the 2008 season – a manufacturer that failed to have a single car qualify for all 36 races last season. However, the association could be a blessing in disguise, as Gibbs will now be the big dogs under their manufacturer’s banner – a major difference from being third at best in the pecking order at Chevrolet. It will certainly benefit them that all of the races will utilize the newest car configuration, and keep in mind Toyota has had a year to work out their engine power band issues – with Gibbs power whiz Mark Cronquist now joining in on the fray. As a result, expect Stewart to bring home the first Cup win for Toyota, and probably become the first Toyota driver to make the Chase.

2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: B.
2007 Grade: B.

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