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Ownership Tempering Stewart – So Far

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 1 2009
Tony Stewart has been a joy to be around as an owner/driver. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)  

Tony Stewart has been a joy to be around as an owner/driver. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The fireworks that some folks expected from Tony Stewart this season have fizzled like a wet sparkler. Six races into his first Sprint Cup season as both driver and car owner, Stewart is sailing along free of controversy, even without a strong boss to ride herd on him.

Granted there haven’t been any big issues to react to as yet, but that’s also to Stewart’s credit too. But the season is still young, and there may come a time when Stewart’s supporters find themselves wishing he had Coach Joe Gibbs to settle him down.

Almost as surprising to many is the on-track performance of the Stewart Haas team that Stewart now steers after 10 years as a driver for Gibbs. Heading to Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart the driver sits seventh in points on the strength of three eighth-place finishes and a season-best third last week at Martinsville.

His teammate Ryan Newman has bounced back to 18th in points after a stretch of bad luck at the start of the season. He finished seventh and sixth in the past two races.

Many in the garage explain Stewart’s early-season success by pointing to the people Stewart has hired to run his team. NASCAR veteran Bobby Hutchens is the competition director and is responsible for sending fast cars to the race track.

From his earlier days working for Dale Earnhardt, Hutchens has a track record of efficiency in the shop. His former co-workers at Earnhardt often recall how he kept a 90-day planner in his office, and more importantly, maintained the schedule he laid out. That meant there was little standing around in the shop – people could look for themselves and see what needed doing next and when it needed to be done. Therefore, crew members rarely found themselves thrashing around on overtime to get a car to the track.

Newman said his new boss’ administrative and people skills are more than he ever imagined, even though he’s known his fellow Indiana Hoosier for years.

“With all due respect he’s a lot smarter than I thought he was,” Newman said. “I knew he was intelligent as a race car driver but from a business standpoint, a people standpoint, not that I never gave him any credit I just didn’t know how to give him credit.

“I’d give him a lot more credit because of the things I’ve seen him do with the people around him.”

Stewart seems to relish the owner’s role. Even the team’s first blown engine at Daytona didn’t faze him. Instead, he was like a kid with a new toy at Christmas. Standing in the garage in his red fire suit, he even helped re-fill the car’s oil tank. It’s a scenario that has been repeated time and again over the years at dirt tracks where Stewart first fielded cars and where his love for and comfort in ownership first blossomed.

“I can remember when we won our first World of Outlaw race in 2001 when we started a team, how proud I was then to be a car owner,” he said. “I think that’s kind of what has led us to today.”

As an owner, he’s more than pleased with his teams’ performance, even though as a driver he’s accustomed to winning fairly often.

“I’ve left Martinsville after a third-place finish and left mad ’cause I knew we had a shot at winning the race or a shot at at least a better finish than a third,” he said. “This weekend a third was like a win to us. A year from now it won’t necessarily be like that. I think we’ll constantly adjust the yardstick as far as where we expect to be.”

He said that as an owner, the expectations are different, as are the rewards.

“You have to keep it in perspective,” he said. “That’s the car-owner side of knowing where we’re starting, what we’re up against. I like that success. I like that feeling when we have a good day. 

 “The success isn’t just necessarily measured by wins, it’s also measured by measuring yourself up against the competition and to know the teams that we were up against and that we’re up against every week. But to know that in six weeks we’ve been able to get right in the middle of those teams, that’s something that we’re really proud of….

“When you’re there to build this organization and to see these people come in from all these different great teams, and to see it grow, it makes that satisfaction of watching it grow that much greater.”

But all that’s not to say the old outspoken Tony has been completely put out to pasture. He said being his own boss won’t keep him on the sidelines of a headline-grabbing controversy.

 “If anything, it’s made me feel like I could get involved in them if I chose to,” he said.

 But so far one of his frequent targets, Goodyear, has been building tires to his liking, so there are no fights to pick at present.  

“It’s been easy to kind of stay out of the controversy,” he said. “We’ve got enough stuff to keep us busy that I think it’s a little better to put it all in perspective and realize that some of those controversies aren’t worth the time and effort.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 1 2009
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