Dover finish is just the beginning for Stewart, SHR
June 05, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
A rough beginning to 2013 season took its first turn for the better with Tony Stewart's victory
DOVER, Del. -- Before he even turned a lap at Dover International Speedway last weekend, Tony Stewart had won three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships, 47 Cup races, an IndyCar title and has had to just stop counting the USAC trophies he’s accumulated over the last 20 years.
However, it was evident in his body language and conviction of words that Stewart’s 48th Cup victory Sunday at Dover was something special. And personal.
Off to the worst start to a Sprint Cup season of his career, the win was his first top-five finish of 2013 and in the span of the race’s three hours, transformed him from frustrated team owner to contending Chase driver again.
Yet after the victory celebration it was only half-swagger for the true-grit Stewart who was equal parts introspective, philosophic and feisty analyzing his effort.
“As much as I hate to say it, it’s good to be back in the media center,’’ Stewart said straight-faced immediately after taking a seat at the podium between the team’s Director of Competition Greg Zipadelli and his crew chief Steve Addington for the winner’s press conference.
"It’s been a lot harder than you think."
-- Tony Stewart
It quickly became clear this wasn’t so much about a finish, but about a start.
“Everybody has to get on board the ship and one guy has to steer the ship and we all have to go in that direction,’’ Stewart said, acknowledging his role as the owner and the leader of his namesake Stewart-Haas Racing venture.
“This will not change the direction of where we’re aiming the ship right now. We want to get three cars competitive and get three cars running well again.
“We realize that this could put the No. 14 team in contention and make the Chase. That’s not good enough.
“I want to get this whole program turned around to where all three drivers have a feeling and an opportunity to go to the racetrack every week and feel like they have an opportunity to go out and have a good result at the end of day.’’
Addressing reporters, Stewart sounded alternately feisty and introspective,
He chastised the media for what he called unsubstantiated reports of firings and turnover at Stewart-Haas Racing as a result of the slow start.
“I’ll be honest, it pissed me off because it was a big distraction to my team, to my organization,’’ Stewart said. “It kept us from doing our jobs because people were hearing rumors and reading what you guys write and it was totally inaccurate and unprofessional, in my opinion.’’
The same big heart that has donated millions of dollars to charity and never met a kid he didn’t like was also hurting and confounded as to what the team needed to do.
There’s the challenge of motivating and inspiring the hundreds on your team that work on the cars and have kept the faith.
But Stewart welcomes the burdens of responsibility and leadership on his broad shoulders.
“It’s been a lot harder than you think,’’ Stewart said, lowering his voice and speaking very measuredly.
“The thing about being in the role we are as an owner and driver is when you have a good day like today, I’m ecstatic about our win. But at the same time, I go back to the bus and I’m like, okay, what happened with Ryan’s day. What happened in Danica’s day?
“When everything goes good you still average out with what all three teams do. And when it goes bad, you feel that assumption of responsibility for what all three team have had.
What happened in Newman and rookie Danica Patrick’s day this week has been much of what’s happened all the other weeks for the three-year old organization. A promising run went sour for Newman who finished 36th after wrecking. Patrick’s GoDaddy.com Chevy was never a factor and she spent most of the afternoon several laps down, ultimately finishing 24th -- five laps behind Stewart.
Newman, who has a team-best six top-10s fell four positions in the standings to 20th. Stewart, who has only three top-10s moved up four spots to 16th and with the victory is now in position for one of the two Chase for the Sprint Cup Wild Card berths available to the two drivers not among the top-10 but ranked in the top-20 with the most wins.
Patrick is 29th in the standings and has only two top-20 finishes.
“We’ve got work to do, don’t let this kid anybody,’’ Zipadelli said. “But as a group we are building momentum at the right time of the year and we did win a race.
“I guess we moved up a bunch of points, so that’s positive. We are going to take the positives and … build on them.
“That’s all we can do is build on it and continue to improve.’’
And after a season with a lot of near misses and total misses, Sunday’s rally will go a long way on a number of levels.
“My job as a car owner is to go down there and keep the morale of the guys good,’’ Stewart said, adding, “Everyone’s frustrated and everybody’s agitated. But it’s for good reasons. They are not just happy just having a job and collecting a paycheck. They want the same thing we want and that’s to be sitting here in the media center at the end of the day talking to you guys about what are we’re doing to make it better.
“I’ve done this enough and been in the Chase enough that being in the Chase is not a novelty for me. I don’t care about being in the Chase unless I have an opportunity to win the championship.
“To me, it’s a bigger deal to our program turned around to where if we have the opportunity to get in the Chase, our goal is not just to make it, but to be championship contenders.’’
And this week, he took a huge step in that direction.