Whitesburg KY

Stewart-Haas is a contender



Stewart-Haas Racing has quickly become the success story of the young 2009 Sprint Cup season.

When Tony Stewart announced last season that he would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 to become part owner and driver of Haas CNC Racing’s two-car operation, many thought the timing couldn’t have been worse. Haas would never have been confused for one of the major operations in the garage area as it seemed to always be looking for a sponsor and lacked the performance to make it a contender on race day. Tony knew all of that going in, but the offer he was made gave him control of the organization with a chance to build some special.

While Haas did have enough problems to scare most successful drivers away, it did have a working agreement with Hendrick Motorsports which included supplying its battle-tested power plants that had a remarkable history of producing both wins and championships. Tony also liked the idea that he would be reunited with Chevrolet and General Motors. He had always said after Gibbs switched to Toyota that he would some day like to be reunited with the manufacturer.

Once Tony took over he imme- diately began surrounding himself with some of the best people in the garage and business side of the sport. He also hired himself a driver with a very similar racing background in Ryan Newman to help him take advantage of the equipment he knew Hendrick would supply.

Sunday at Martinsville, the two combined to give Stewart-Haas its first double top 10 finish of the season and, more importantly, continued to show the rest of the series that the organization is getting closer and closer to making its first trip to victory lane. Stewart was in a great position to get that first win, finishing third behind race winner Jimmie Johnson and second-place Denny Hamlin.

Newman finished sixth, which backed up his first top 10 of the season last week at Bristol where he finished seventh. Sunday’s finish also provided Newman with a big jump in the point standings as he moved up nine spots to the 18th position. The move also put him within 79 points of joining his boss, who is in seventh in the allimportant top 12.

This is definitely the kind of start that Tony envisioned when he took over the operation last year. While the competition side of the team is close to where it needs to be, there is still the question of some additional sponsorship for Newman’s car to finish out the season. The Army sponsorship that is now on the car is not for the entire season but there is some additional sponsorship from Haas Automotive. Together, the two deals will not cover the team for the entire schedule but if Newman continues putting together top 10’s and moving up toward the top 12, his hood will look very attractive to a would-be sponsor.

PIT NOTES: When Richard Childress Racing moved Clint Bowyer from his old team at RCR to a new fourth team within the organization for the 2009 season, many expected Bowyer to struggle during the early part of the schedule. Bowyer and his old team had turned into championship contenders in the three years they had been together, with the last two seasons producing third- and fifth-place finishes in the final point standings. Being with a new startup team forced Bowyer to have to qualify on speed for the first five races. Both he and his team were up to that challenge as his fifth-place finish at Martinsville moved him up one spot in the standings to second, where he trails Jeff Gordon by only 89 points. Bowyer’s surprising start to the season is due to the consistency he has shown throughout his three-year career as he has posted top 5 finishes in three of the first six races of the season.

Even though he is with a new crew chief in Shane Wilson, the two have quickly come together to be the flagbearer for RCR. Teammate Kevin Harvick is the only other RCR driver in the top 12 at 10th, with Jeff Burton just outside in 13th and Casey Mears back in the pack at 26th.

Race Preview — Event: Samsung 500. Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: April 5, 2 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Carl Edwards.

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