2009-12-24 / Sports

Tony Stewart Did Good In 2009

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Tony Stewart exceeded most everyone’s expectations this past racing season.

“I have to give us an ‘A’,” Stewart said. “If we could’ve won the championship, you would give yourself an ‘A+’, but for a firstyear team an ‘A’ or an ‘A-’ is appropriate for what we had to do to come together in such a short amount of time. There was a lot of change for everyone who came to Stewart-Haas, and to get all the people organized, get them working together, along with getting all of our equipment ready, I think we did fairly well, and from that standpoint, I don’t think I could be any happier.”

Few, if any, could’ve imagined that a startup NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race team built on the foundation of Haas CNC Racing could win five races, score two poles, compile 14 top threes, 20 top fives, 38 top 10s, rack up 628 laps led and place both its teams in the Chase for the Championship. Yet, that’s exactly what Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) did in its inaugural year of operation.

Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman ended the season tied for completing the most laps of all drivers – 10,468 laps completed (99.8 percent), missing only 24 laps.

That consistency allowed both drivers to secure spots in the 12-driver Chase. And while the two drivers finished sixth and ninth, respectively, in the seasonending point standings, their rank is not indicative of their season long body of work.

Stewart, in his 11th year of Sprint Cup competition but first as a driver/owner, carried the mantle at SHR behind the wheel of his No. 14. The breakthrough win came on May 16 when Stewart won the non-points All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. That spark set a fire, for Stewart would go on to win four Cup races: Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in August and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in October.

Fanning the flames was Stewart’s rise to the top of the championship point standings, as he took the point lead May 31 following a second-place finish at Dover (Del.). He held the top spot for 13 straight races until the Chase in September, where the points were reshuffled and Stewart was seeded second.

Newman, meanwhile, was forced to play from behind after early-season misfortune left him a precarious 32nd in points entering round five at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. He then rattled off seven top-10 finishes over the next 10 races, catapulting the No. 39 up the championship standings to fourth by the time the series rolled into Michigan International Speedway in June. Along the way, Newman scored the first pole for SHR on May 21 when he set fast time in qualifying for the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He would grab another pole later in the year in the series’ return trip to Martinsville to nab his 45th career Sprint Cup pole.

“We achieved a lot, but we’re not totally satisfied either, and that’s because we’re not sitting at the head table in Las Vegas this year,” said Newman. “Still, we’ve done a lot of great things as an organization. We’ve done a lot of great things as drivers to get to where we are, and for me personally, to make the big change, and obviously Tony as well in leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to do this, we didn’t have any idea what to expect. We just knew that we wanted to go out there and have fun, and if we had fun, we were going to be successful one way or another.”

Tony Stewart will be spending the holiday season Down Under competing in a series of races in Sydney, Australia. He will drive a car alongside four-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz in four of the biggest events on the Australian speedway calendar.

Stewart has been a standout on the oval track for the past 20 years with numerous championships along the way, including a trifecta of USAC titles (Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown) in 1995. He won the IndyCar championship in 1997.

There will be no NASCAR racing next season at the Milwaukee Mile. The operators of the track announced last week that the scheduled 2010 Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races will not be held at the track.

The track is operated by the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board, which has not been able to secure a promoter for the 2010 season. The Truck Series race was scheduled for June 18, with the Nationwide Series race scheduled for June 19 at the historic one-mile oval, which opened in 1903.

“For the past seven years, the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board has been committed to maintaining and underwriting national racing at the historic Milwaukee Mile race track,” the board said in a statement. “Since 2003, the Fair Park has subsidized race operations from $1 million to $3 million each year.

“This money has come from revenue generated by visitors to the State Fair and other events held at the park. The Fair Park has invested these substantial amounts in an effort to keep two national race weekends at The Mile. However, even the profitable NASCAR race weekend does not generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs of the other races as well as promoter operating expenses. It saddens us to say there will not be a national race held at the Milwaukee Mile for the 2010 season.”

There was no immediate word from NASCAR whether those races would be replaced on the schedule.

The Milwaukee Mile is the second track that was on the Nationwide and Truck series schedules that will not conduct races next year. Memphis Motorsports Park closed last month.

But on a bright note, the U. S. Appeals Court has cleared the way for Kentucky Speedway to land a Cup race. The previous owners had sued NASCAR, claiming that NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. had teamed up to deny the track a Cup date. Last week, the court ruled against the previous owners.

When Bruton Smith purchased the track, he promised a Cup race, maybe as early as 2011.

NASCAR had contended it could not include a Cup date at the track until the lawsuit was settled. Now that the legal issues are resolved, it’s going to be interesting to see which other track loses a race.

Racing trivia question: Where is the first Cup race of the regular season held?

Last week’s question: What year did Dale Jarrett win his only Cup championship? Answer. Answer. 1999.

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