It’s not that often you see Tony Stewart happy to finish second. Of course, when the car that beats him is the one he owns, it makes sense. The first ever one-two finish for Stewart Haas Racing capped of a perfect week for the organization, just two days after sweeping the front row for the first time in the team’s short history. It couldn’t have come at a better week either as both Stewart and his driver Ryan Newman are fighting hard to make the Chase. For Newman, the win likely secured him a spot in the Chase as one victory seems like it will be good enough for a wildcard. Stewart, on the other hand, is a different story.
While Loudon proved to be a monumental weekend for Tony Stewart the car owner, the driver still has work to do. Even with his runner up finish this past Sunday, he remains outside the top 10 in points. Right now he sits in 11th and would make the Chase if everything remains the same. If he can’t crack the top 10 though, a victory by a handful of drivers behind him would be all it takes to knock him out.
Yes, Stewart is traditionally a slow starter who doesn’t heat up until the summer months. Guess what? There is only one more race in the month of July. Prior to Loudon, which marked the halfway point of the year, the 2002 and 2005 Cup champion had just one top five and six top 10s – well on pace for career lows. How does that compare with his previous years? Take a look.
*Stewart’s Halfway Statistics Year By Year*
|Year||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Points Position|
(_Bold indicates championship seasons_)
Many drivers would kill to have some of these totals for the entire year, and up until 2007, Stewart had at least one win before the halfway point every year with the exception of his rookie year. For those that are still waiting for Stewart to get going, all you need to look at this chart and realize that he usually has heated up by now. Sure, Loudon was a huge morale booster for the team, but the question that now arises is whether he can maintain this momentum. With two of his most successful tracks next on the schedule, Indy and Watkins Glen, signs point to yes.
And while his first half numbers are somewhat troubling, let’s not forget why. The simplest answer is bad luck. Remember, he was in position to win the first three races – he started second to Trevor Bayne on the final restart at Daytona but was unable to find a good drafting partner and finished 13th, and an ill-timed caution at Phoenix allowed the field with fresher tires to catch up and pass him with a handful laps to go. Then there was Vegas, where he had the field covered until a missed lugnut during a late race pit stop relegated him to a runner-up finish. Until Loudon, that was his only top 5 on the year.
The problems didn’t stop there, however. At Fontana, he ran second to Kyle Busch most of the afternoon until he got passed by several drivers on fresher tires when a late race caution came out. He could have won at Texas as well, until he was caught speeding during the last pit stop of the race. Even then, his team played the fuel strategy card and was running third on the final lap before running out of gas. If any driver were to win the tough luck award of the year, Stewart would take it easily.
At the end of the day, it’s all coulda-woulda-shoulda, but any racer would rather have poor finishes after running well than poor finishes because they were plain uncompetitive. It is also encouraging going forward for the rest of the year.
Stewart also should remain optimistic from a car owner perspective. While he has had his share of rough luck, Newman is having his best year at SHR. He has run into trouble as well – most notably both Daytona races in which he led the most laps but didn’t even get a top 20 to show for it – but it looks as if he is having a revival year, as far as consistency goes. He already has more top 5s through 19 races than he did in four of the five previous years. His win at New Hampshire brought back memories of his magical 2003 season, where he won several races by not only gambling on fuel, but outrunning the competition as well.
Whether Tony Stewart ends up making the Chase this year really shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, he has accomplished so much in his 13-year Cup career, that another Chase appearance wouldn’t really define him as a driver. From an owner’s perspective however, it would be cool to have both him and Newman in the Chase for the second time in his third year as owner. This goes back to the very beginning, why Stewart was so happy with a second place finish. Yes, it was a good runner up result, but he also won. Even though he has been in an ownership role for over two years now, Newman’s win last Sunday showed the world that Stewart has transformed from a young, Kyle Busch type of driver in his early days who hated to finish second, to a car owner who is more concerned about the overall growth of his organization rather than his personal success.
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