The Frontstretch: Patience Equals Power For Stewart As Both Owner And Driver by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 18, 2009

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Patience Equals Power For Stewart As Both Owner And Driver

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday May 18, 2009


He that can have patience, can have what he will. – Benjamin Franklin

For over a decade, Tony Stewart was never confused with being a patient man. After all, the driver nicknamed Smoke for his infamous temper tantrums on and off the track won his first Cup title while under probation for punching a track photographer after a bad day. Those types of incidents throughout his career left more than a few skeptics on the fence this season as Stewart made his debut as an owner/driver in NASCAR. For them, it wasn’t a matter of if he could keep his frustrations from boiling over into an ugly mess… but when.

In Victory Lane on Saturday night, Tony Stewart seemed more excited for his crew than for himself after raking in a cool million dollars.

Turns out somewhere during these last three months, Stewart found a way to turn down the heat on that stove.

As the No. 14 Chevrolet pulled into Victory Lane Saturday night, the driver/owner who compared himself to the fiery A.J. Foyt in February was hardly playing the part of his mentor. Instead of pushing the issue, Stewart’s first ever All-Star race win came at the heels of picking his spots, watching intently as teammate Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon effectively took themselves out of contention ahead of him in a three-car wreck. When the Smoke cleared, it was Smoke himself who held the cards, breezing by Matt Kenseth with two laps to go to pull off his first ever victory in the All-Star Race.

As expected, Stewart’s charge through the field – sixth to first in those final ten laps – led to the type of jubilation you’d expect from a man that, at 37, made a career-changing move in the offseason pay off. But with his latest trophy to his Sprint Cup collection came a new type of attitude we hadn’t quite seen in the media room: humility.

“I didn’t think in 10 minutes, you could do so much in such a short amount of time,” Stewart said of the break before the 10-lap final segment – one where crew chief Darian Grubb touched everything underneath the car to make it work. “That was a huge 10 minute period in my life, having the opportunity to come in and turn Darian loose. I think the guy’s David Copperfield all of a sudden.”

And so it went, a press conference full of answers that gave credit to everyone other than himself. Indeed, just Stewart’s realization about Grubb’s three-month magic act is proof to how the two-time champion has come around. It’s an important partnership to secure, indeed, as one of the things people forget when Stewart formed his own team is he wasn’t allowed to take crewmen with him from Joe Gibbs Racing. Everyone and everything he put together was filled with new personnel, a chemistry experiment led by a man who once got rubbed the wrong way all too easy.

Instead, Grubb, Director of Competition Bobby Hutchens, and all of their new hires have meshed together better than anyone ever thought they would; and the best part of all is, they’re in love with the boss. In a show of solidarity, the No. 14 crew took Stewart’s victory tradition to the next level after the race, climbing the fence in support of a man who had faith in taking over a team that failed to crack the top 5 during all of 2008.

It was a gesture that clearly left their owner more than a little moved. An All-Star Race win may have meant a cool million dollars for NASCAR’s new owner/driver sensation — but the smile on his face showed that for a two-time champ who’s already achieved Hall of Fame credentials, success in this sport is no longer about the money.

“They’ve been an awesome group of guys to work with up to this point,” he explained of his time heading up the No. 14. “And that’s the most gratifying part about it. It’s about seeing those guys and seeing them celebrating and smiling in Victory Lane when I got there — and seeing how happy they were and the excitement on their faces. There’s no check that you can write in any amount that’s going to make up for that and could take the place of it.”

That’s not the first time the man has gone out of his way to praise the crew on his team this year. Every bad pit stop, every poor decision has come with not shouting but simple support from their owner behind the wheel, preaching patience while relishing the opportunity to build confidence in someone other than himself. As a result, we’ve seen an intriguing irony of sorts where a man accused of tearing a team apart in his waning days behind the wheel in the No. 20 now finds himself an unquestioned leader somewhere else.

That’s not to say Stewart’s temper won’t show its ugly head at some point. But it’s a whole lot different to get frustrated six months into an ownership role than six weeks. In the former, you’ll never fully earn the respect of the crew; in the latter, the crew will move mountains in order to respond to you.

Right now, they’re all in line behind a driver who’s as laid-back as we’ve ever seen, and that temperament is why it’s no surprise Stewart’s put himself in the best position this early in the season than ever in his 11-year Cup career.

Because, after all, doesn’t a little patience always seem to go a long way?

Bowles Bits (One-liners about the race that was)

  • Just as Tony’s peaking with the No. 14, Joey Logano is clearly getting it together at the No. 20. All’s well that ends well?
  • You gotta think a win for Matt Kenseth would have done wonders for him; instead, second place may have wound up denting the No. 17 team’s confidence even more.
  • Tony Eury, Jr. did nothing to save his job Saturday; and now that Hendrick’s healthy, count me among those who say he’s no longer with the No. 88 as of next Monday morning.
  • In my diary for SI this week, Carl Edwards told me it’s gotten to the point Lowe’s is the hardest 1.5-miler to pass on other than Darlington. And apart from those final ten laps Sunday … it showed.
  • Looks like Penske knew what he was doing when preaching patience about Sam Hornish, Jr.
  • Not a sellout, but a good crowd (100,000+) at Charlotte that got to see a great final ten laps. Let’s cross the fingers and hope the economy — and dwindling attendance — may start to bottom out this summer.

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Casey B
05/18/2009 08:54 AM

It’s nice to hear some positive words about the all star race, when it seems like all I have heard are negative ones. I thought the race awesome, I’ll admit there were some slow times during the race, but big picture I thought it was very exciting. Great article Tom.

05/18/2009 09:06 AM

It just shows the depth of personnel at HMS, for them to have given someone like Darian to Tony. Wonder if they’re not wishing they had him back about now. One wonders, if it’s not about time that Tony Eurey Jr. took the lead on this. I’d think it was better to jump, than be pushed.

05/18/2009 09:27 AM

Tony has done an amazing job with his new teams . Pundits are quick to point out that Stewart Haas gets engines and chassis from Hendrick . But i’m not so sure thats where the performance is coming from . For one thing , SHR hangs their own bodies . They obviously do a very good job . Hendrick engines responsible ? Well , the Haas team has had those engines for several seasons , and never cracked the top five . And a number of other teams have leased engines from Hendrick over the years with little success . The Hendrick chassis ? Until recently , the Hendrick chassis wasn’t one of the better in Cup . It took them a long time to get the COT chassis working . And so far this year , Tony has been just as good if not better than the HMS own chassis . And while Darrien Grubb is a great talent , remember Evernham going out on his own and lukewarm results foiiowing . So the Hendrick talent pool isn’t responsible either .
No , i’d say this one is Tony putting together one of the most impressive teams in recent memory , with people like Bobby Hutchens leading the way at the shop , and Tony and Ryan doing what they do best . Hendrick ? No , i’d say this one is all Stewart Haas .

Carl in PA
05/18/2009 10:29 AM

Michael. Please. Even Tony himself says that he’s getting unprecedented access to the Hendrick competition notes.

With a new rule coming in 2010 that limits owners to only four teams, do you really believe that suddenly, a new owner was able to enter Cup racing and be successful without any outside help other than that available to every other team that leases HMS engines?

Tony’s my boy, and he’s the only guy out there that has the attitude and drive to live up to the number 14 heritage, and yes, I offer my eldest daughter’s virginity to him whenever I go to his autograph signings, but still, I’m not Dale Jr fan crazy enought to believe that he’s turned that team around all on his own.

Darian Grubb’s presence at Stewart-Haas should tip off all but the casualest fan that this is a satellite HMS team. To believe otherwise is naive at best.

05/18/2009 10:44 AM

Sure HMS has helped Tony but HMS has helped HAAS since they started up and they had nothing to show for it. It all comes down to the people. And the people came over to Stewart-Haas because of Tony Stewart.

05/18/2009 12:56 PM

Micheal, I agree, the team has a large role to play in this early success. Just look at Earnhardt Jr., his team sits in the same shop as the #5 and we do not see the same results. What Tony Stewart has done is nothing short of amazing. It is true that Haas and Hendricks have a very long relationship of sharing technology back and forth, but it was the infusion of money from big time sponsors and the talent that signed on to be a part of Stewart and Newman’s great experiment. And it is not unprecidented for Tony to assemble winning organizations. Look at the results he has with his Open Wheel programs. Remember equipment is important, but pit stops and the ability to make adjustments in the heat of battle wins races and championships.

05/19/2009 04:32 PM

What do you mean Tony has “come around” in regard to praising his team? He ALWAYS did that with Zippy and crew and rarely castigated them on-camera after a bad finish. If he did, he was always quick to acknowledge their hard work and how much he appreciated it.


Contact Tom Bowles

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