NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

2010 Ride: No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: Office Depot, Old Spice
2010 Owners: Tony Stewart, Gene Haas
2010 Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 2 wins, 9 top fives, 17 top 10s, 1 DNF, 2 poles, seventh in points

High Point: In a season that saw Stewart have many downs and very few ups, it’s a no-brainer that Fontana was the high point of Smoke’s year. The win propelled him to fourth in the Chase standings, and Smoke left the track within reasonable distance of the points lead four races into the playoff. It was also his first career win at the 2-mile oval, leaving the veteran with just two active racetracks (Las Vegas and Darlington) that he has yet to score a victory at.

From a car owner’s perspective, Stewart also got to watch someone win for his team for the first time this year, with Ryan Newman ending a two-year drought and picking up one for SHR at Phoenix in April.

Low Point: From Martinsville to Darlington, Stewart went through the worst six-race stretch of his Sprint Cup career. He had five finishes outside the top 20 and no top-15 results – the longest drought he has ever had in Cup competition. His lone good run in that stretch came at Texas, where he led 74 laps from the pole position only to crash out with a little over 20 laps left. The accident left Stewart on the outside looking in on the Chase, and he fell as low as 18th in the points after Darlington before a slow, steady recovery over the summer months.

Of course, the other moment people will remember is the Loudon race in September, one Stewart seemingly had in hand until running out of fuel on the final lap. That nearly 100-point difference between first and 24th ultimately made the difference in his Chase, handing a win to Clint Bowyer while snuffing out momentum from 10 top-10 finishes in 13 races to end the regular season. Without it, that Fontana victory would have meant two in four races, vaulting him into serious contention with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick heading into the postseason’s second half.

Summary: Stewart and the entire organization exceeded expectations in 2009 that saw the driver/owner lead the points for most of the regular season while both teams made the Chase. The success of the previous year led many to expect SHR to be even stronger in 2010, contending for the title with both their No. 14 and No. 39 machines. But while Stewart again made the postseason this year, the season was more like a sophomore slump for the two-time champ.

After heading into the 10-race postseason with decent momentum – he won twice over the summer and made a charge to fourth in points after briefly falling outside the 12-man cutoff – a championship run never materialized. With no top-five finishes over the season’s final six races, he limped to a seventh-place points finish while teammate Newman didn’t even make it into this year’s Chase. That ugly ending to the year meant it was also the first time Stewart failed to record double digit top fives in a season (he had nine).

Team Ranking: The first of two. Stewart was again the top-ranking SHR driver for the year, and it came easier in 2010 as fellow teammate Newman never flashed consistency outside of a 1.5 average finish at Phoenix.

2011 Outlook: The biggest changes for Stewart next year are on the sponsorship front. Mobil 1 comes in to replace Old Spice as a primary for about a dozen races, giving the team much-needed associate backing for the rest of the year. Other than that, all backers will return to both the Nos. 14 and 39 teams for next season, an important achievement in a difficult financial environment for the sport.

With more changes coming to the CoT car for 2011, it becomes difficult to gauge how any driver and team will perform. Based off momentum, though, Smoke may have some work to do this offseason, his team limping to the finish while never flashing consistent speed. On the plus side, teammate Newman seemed to make great strides as the year concluded, so Stewart’s February foundation will likely come from notes inside the No. 39 camp. Only time will tell if that’s enough, but sophomore slumps do have a tendency to end in year three, right?

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B
2007 Grade: B
2008 Grade: B
2009 Grade: A
2010 Grade: C+

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