Stewart-Haas Racing entered the 2009 Nascar Sprint Cup season much akin to a start up team. Tony Stewart’s partnership in the team came with wholesale changes in personnel and strategies.
Both teams, 14 Tony Stewart and 39 Ryan Newman, suffered at Daytona with wrecked cars but Tony was able to rebound in the 500 with an eighth place finish, while Newman fought an ill handling car to finish 36th. As they headed to Fontana the following week, Stewart again claimed a top 10 finish while Newman fought gremlins all day settling for a 28th place finish.
Heading into week three at LasVegas SHR was fighting to get the game together and with both cars qualifying in the top 10, it looked like the turnaround was at hand. Early in the race, both drivers complained of loose handling cars, but adjustments on pit stops corrected the problems. Newman lost a lap early in the race with the handling problem, but hung in to get the lucky dog and returned to the lead lap.
With about 100 laps to go, Newman, while running 13th in the field reported a vibration that got worse in the turns and the tri-oval. Ryan began falling back in the field until on lap 200 he was forced to make a green flag pit stop, sending him down 2 laps. The vibration? A loose left rear wheel.
Ironically at about the same time as Ryan was pitting, Tony reported a vibration in the 14 car, that was getting worse with each lap completed. Darren Grubb called Tony in on lap 204 to change right side tires, but after returning to the track, Stewart reported the vibration getting worse. The second green flag stop to change left side tires, where they found the loose left rear wheel, left Stewart 2 laps down.
In the end the Stewart-Haas cars finished 25th (Newman) and 26th (Stewart), dropping Stewart four positions in the points standings to 8th. Ryan Newman remains in 33rd in the championship standings. But both drivers were upbeat about the team and the cars as they see the problems so far a learning experience that has been hampered by the new testing rules of Nascar.
“We had a fast car today,” Newman said. “Even after our problems, we were running with the leaders and even gaining on them. We just had a loose wheel, and that took us out of contention. I feel confident that if we can get everything clicking with our Haas Automation team, we will be a force to deal with each and every week on the racetrack.”
“We had a solid car all day – definitely a top-five car. The finish doesn’t show the performance that we had,” said Stewart after making his 11th career Sprint Cup start at Las Vegas. “Obviously, we had bad luck with the left-rear that came loose, but I take five-fold over that that we were good. “There’s still question marks I’m sure with a lot of people, ‘Can we do this?’ and three weeks in a row we’ve gone out and run well. We didn’t get the physical finish today that we deserved, but we had a good performance on the racetrack. Every time I leave the racetrack, it just gives me confidence that we’re going to be something to contend with at the end of the year.”
By the time the ‘Chase’ begins, I would look to se at least one, if not both of these cars in the top 12. Needless to say Gene Haas and Haas Automation made a brilliant decision in partnering with Stewart. Bring the knowledge he gained with Joe Gibbs Racing and his own personal drive, Tony Stewart revamped a mediocre organization into a driving force among Nascar teams.