Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – Stewart Haas hitting full stride in 2012

Stewart-Haas racing was formed in 2009 with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman taking the wheels for the race team that was formerly Haas CNC racing. Stewart was enticed into the organization with a major ownership stake. The first year of competition saw the owner notch four wins and the two teams combined for 20 top 5s and 38 top 10s, along with two poles. While the next two seasons saw similar success, the end of 2011 was a shining accomplishment for the organization when Stewart won the series championship. With only six races in the book this season the company looks as though they picked up right where they left off.

Tony Stewart has been a notorious slow starter, with only a couple of wins prior to May on his resume before this season. However, he’s already notched two victories in the first six races this year. Now, with Newman’s victory Sunday, SHR has won 50% of the events in 2012. While it has been a very fast road to success for the organization, their outstanding performance in the first races of this year puts them in the league with the other heavyweights of the sport. Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing are considered by most everyone to be the big four organizations. With SHR putting 16 victories in the books in just over three years of competition, and eight of the last 16 races in the Cup series, they’ve now moved into that upper echelon of teams.

The one thing that sets SHR apart from the other “Big Guns” is that they do not construct their own chassis or engines. Fortunately they do receive their equipment from Hendrick and, as evidenced by Stewart’s title last season, the technology sharing between the organizations is very open and gives the teams under the SHR umbrella just as good of an opportunity to win as any other team in the series. The thing on the SHR side of the ledger that is setting them apart from everyone else is personnel and chemistry. Stewart has brought together some of his old cronies from JGR, along with some of the best talent from throughout the garage, and put together a group of racers that are in the sport because they love it. Stewart routinely touts the benefits of the fact that the guys in his company are racers, not just in the sport for a paycheck.

The latest additions to the roster of racers at SHR are Greg Zipadelli and Steve Addington. Zipadelli has taken over as Competition Director while Addington has moved on top of the pit box for Stewart. Zipadelli was the crew chief for the first two title runs that Stewart made while driving for Joe Gibbs racing. Addington also spent quite a bit of time in the trenches at JGR, starting as crew chief for Bobby Labonte before topping the box for J.J. Yeley and Kyle Busch. His most recent stint was at Penske Racing where he was the crew chief for Kurt Busch. Addington paid his dues in the Nationwide series for 15 years before he was tabbed to head up Labonte’s team.

The beauty of having racers throughout the organization is that they have a sole focus: winning. They’ll sacrifice anything and everything to put the car in victory lane and it has never been more evident that it works than the beginning of this season. With the way SHR has been running over the first six race weekends, they could very well run away and hide from the rest of the series by the time the checkered flag waves in Homestead.

Chemistry is a crucial element of successful racing teams and having all of the members of the organization sharing a similar brain will do nothing but translate into success on the race track. NASCAR has become a haven for engineers and computer simulators, but the brains at SHR are showing there are still some places in the sport for good old-fashioned gear heads. There’s no question that the engineers and computer geeks are helping advance the cause for the Nos. 14 and 39, but having guys around the shop and in the pits who have turned wrenches since they were little kids allows the teams to make the crucial decisions during race time that the computer and engineer types can’t.

Newman and Stewart are off to a great start this season and have the potential to post consecutive titles for SHR if they can keep the momentum up for the entire season. Six races into the year is certainly premature for title talk, but knowing that Stewart only gets better as the season wears on, and he’s already notched two victories, there is a real chance he could win double digit races this year. Newman is refocused after a disappointing 2011 season, and scoring a win, even if it wasn’t in dominating fashion, it is still a win and sets him up to make the Chase even if he isn’t in the top 10 in points. The teams at SHR are in a great position and are living proof that racers can get it done in the modern, high-tech world of NASCAR in 2012.

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