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Stewart Spends Rainy Weekend Thinking About The Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2009
Dark clouds moved in over the Watkins Glen track Sunday. The rain from those clouds then moved the Sprint Cup race to Monday.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dark clouds moved in over the Watkins Glen track Sunday. The rain from those clouds then moved the Sprint Cup race to Monday. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Watkins Glen, N.Y. – Rookie NASCAR team-owner/driver Tony Stewart is mulling the addition of a third team to his Sprint Cup Series stable in 2010. And Stewart, the series points-leader, had plenty of time to consider his options Sunday evening after rain forced postponement of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen.

Steady rain, and NASCAR’s stated desire to run the full advertised event, forced postponement of the Cup race until Monday at noon. Three-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch will share the front row for the delayed start of the 90-lap/220.5-mile event. ESPN will carry the race live, beginning at noon. MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio also will broadcast live.

However, Monday’s forecast for the Finger Lakes Region is for scattered thunderstorms beginning at mid-day, and a 30 to 40 percent chance of rain during the afternoon.

Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, will start from Row 7 as he seeks to break out of a deadlock with four-time series champ Jeff Gordon for NASCAR supremacy at WGI. Both Stewart and Gordon are four-time winners here. Stewart also will look to pad his 197-point lead over Johnson in Race No. 22 of the schedule.

Earlier in the weekend, Stewart acknowledged that the success Stewart Haas Racing has experienced this season between himself and teammate Ryan Newman has opened the door to expansion.

“I don’t think we’ve ruled that out yet,” said Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS. “It’s getting to the point in the season if we’re going to do a third team and have a third team for next season it would have to happen pretty quickly. At least having the sponsor and driver lined-up to make sure that we have an adequate amount of time to get all the tools and pieces in place for next year. But, I would say it’s not very likely right now.”

Stewart has driven to the top of the championship standings on the strength of two wins, six top-fives and eight top-10s. He has led a total of 239 laps in 12 events. Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevy, is ninth in points. Newman, who has five top-five and nine top-10 finishes and led 10 races for 156 laps, out-qualified his boss with a sixth-place effort on Friday.

Stewart said a physical expansion to three teams at SHR basically would be seamless.

“The building is capable of holding three teams for sure,” Stewart said. “That’s not a problem. It’s just adding people and making sure that the funding is in place. It would be adding a little more equipment and people, but having that funding and the driver is the biggest key.”

Stewart admittedly has exceeded expectations as an owner/driver after ending his tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season. Stewart Haas Racing is working as a satellite Chevy team to Hendrick Motorsports, which counts points-runner-up Johnson, third-place Gordon and 10th-place Mark Martin among the top 12 drivers eligible for the season-ending, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Defining the most enjoyable part of his adventure as team-owner, Stewart said, is a no-brainer.

“Leading the points,” said Stewart, who replaced Gordon atop the points table after a second-place finish to Johnson at Dover International Speedway on May 31. “To come out with a team that’s new and be leading the points halfway through the year is a huge accomplishment right now for us.

“And I think just the leadership we’ve got with Bobby Hutchens and (crew chief) Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson…a lot of these guys are having success for the first time in their careers, so you want to take advantage of that enthusiasm and not pull it back too much and let these guys enjoy what they’re doing. They’re having fun, and that’s half the battle.”

Stewart has led the points for nine consecutive weeks, and his stats at WGI bode well for Monday.  In addition to his four wins, Stewart has six top-five and eight top-10 finishes here. His average finish in 10 starts is 5.7, including a second-place result to Kyle Busch last summer.

Sunday’s pre-race activities had been completed and the 43 drivers were strapped into their cars when NASCAR opted to delay the start at 2:20 p.m. as a storm front approached the 11-turn, 2.45-mile circuit from the northwest. After an initial dousing, track officials began the drying process with jet dryers and a parade of pickup trucks. But a second shower that began falling at approximately 3:40 p.m. sealed the postponement at 4 p.m. By 5:30 p.m., the sun was breaking through the cloud cover.

Despite a history of dodging rain drops in the region, this marks only the second time a Cup race has been pushed to Monday since NASCAR’s premier series returned to The Glen in 1986. Rusty Wallace won the rain-delayed 1987 race en route to his only Cup championship.

Cup races now have been washed-out by inclement weather in the Northeast for two consecutive weekends. Denny Hamlin won last Monday’s delayed event at Pocono Raceway.

All tickets will be honored when gates open at 8 a.m. Monday. WGI’s ticket office also will open at 8 a.m. Fans wishing to purchase tickets can do so beginning at $55. Tickets can be purchased either by calling the track’s ticket office at 866-461-RACE or by logging onto the WGI website at www.TheGlen.com.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2009
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