On Pit Road: Stewart-Haas Comes Alive in Martinsville

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman started the 2009 season with a lot of questions of what the new team could accomplish. While Stewart got off to a good start, coming to Martinsville 7th in points, the 39 team with Newman has struggled, entering Martinsville 27th in the points.
Stewart continues to lead the Stewart-Haas Racing driver lineup in the championship point race, as his third-place finish kept him seventh in the standings after race six of 36. Newman made a big gain with his sixth-place run, vaulting nine spots to 18th in the standings. Stewart is 161 points behind series leader Gordon while Newman is 334 points out of first.
“We had a good day today. I’m happy for the Old Spice/Office Depot guys and I’m really happy for Ryan and the U.S. Army guys,” said Stewart as he proudly wore his owner hat. “I don’t know that it’s really gelling, because we’ve just been like this from day one. It’s just kind of figuring things out. Ryan’s learning a new package, I’m learning a new package, and it’s learning what each of us wants.
It appears to this writer that there is still more work to be done by the 39 crew as they lost positions on every pit stop at Martinsville. Newman was quick to make up those spots on the track, but one has to wonder what might have happened. Qualifying was rained out, relegating Newman to a 27th place start, for a driver that has averaged an 8th place start in 15 races at Martinsville, starting that far back at a track where passing is so hard was a disadvantage from the start. Despite starting in the back he meticulously moved his way up to the top ten, only to be dropped back after each pit stop. After the final caution on lap 474, he came out 10th, and fought to catch up to and finally pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get to 7th behind Mark Martin. A four lap, side by side battle with Martin ended on the last lap when Newman finally got by to take the 6th position at the flag.
Stewart appears confident in the SHR organization and remains upbeat about their success during their first season. “It’s coming. It just takes time. It’s like we say every Monday in our competition meeting. We’ve just got to build a database first. Once we get that established, then I think the second time we come around, we’re going to be a little better yet.”
At the pace SHR is improving, Tony Stewart in the 14 car appears to be a safe bet to make the Chase. With Newman and the 39 car in 31st in points just two weeks ago, the idea of a Chase berth was not even remotely a consideration. However, if the team continues to show the same commitment and improvement that has been displayed over the past two races, they may very well be the first team to make the Chase after such a slow start since the Chase began.