Stewart breaks through
Becoming co-owner of a Sprint Cup Series team and transforming it into a successful, winning organization in less than seven months?
Or starting dead last at Pocono Raceway in a back-up car after wrecking your primary car during practice the day before?
“Well both of them seem too easy right now, but I know it’s not,” said Stewart, who overcame both with a win Sunday at Pocono Raceway. “They’re both difficult and they are both because of hard work.
“It’s an easy when you have the tools in place and that’s something Joe (Custer, vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing) has given us from the start—anything that we needed. The tools were there and it was just a matter of find some key people to help tie up some loose ends, so to speak.”
Stewart stretched the fuel in his No. 14 Chevrolet to reach 500 miles—barely—and held off Carl Edwards to win the Pocono 500, his first victory as an owner/driver since announcing the formation of Stewart-Haas Racing last July.
Cambridge’s Matt Kenseth finished 16th after a late pit stop foiled what had been a day spent mostly inside the top five.
Stewart’s win—the 34th of his career—is also the first for an owner/driver in NASCAR’s premier series since Ricky Rudd won at the September race at Martinsville, Va., in 1998.
“The hardest part for me was last fall. It was getting these key people in place,” Stewart said. “There were a lot of nights and a lot of midnight meetings. That was the hard part.
“The good thing is, when you hire the right people, it has made my life easier this year. You don’t have to worry because you have good people in the right places and you let them do their jobs.”
Even though he was slated to start from pole as the points leader when qualifying was rained out, Stewart wrecked his primary car Saturday during practice and his use of a back-up car Sunday sent him to the rear of the field at the start.
He led only two laps before taking the lead on Lap 164 of 200 after Jeff Gordon, who stayed out when it appeared rain might halt the race, made his pit stop.
Stewart built up a large lead over the final 37 laps that Edwards, who was also was trying to make his fuel last, could not overcome.
“I have always had a great group of people to work with at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) it is just a little different when it is your own. You know when you are the one at the end of the day that has to be accountable for it,” Stewart said.
“This year has been hard on the weather side so it was a little nerve wracking there when we got the last caution there with the rain.”
Stewart’s transformation of the former Haas CNC Racing was no easy task and he had many doubters.
Edwards, who hung on Stewart’s every bobble or slow-down in the final laps waiting for a chance to strike, admitted he was one.
“The things that he set out to accomplish this year were huge. I personally didn’t believe he could get it done—I did not think he would succeed the way he has so far,” Edwards said.
“So, I’m extremely impressed with that. I can only imagine how good that feels to be able to do what he’s done.”
J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing where Stewart spent the first 10 years of his Cup career, said he was impressed with what Stewart has accomplished as an owner.
“He obviously is a great driver. I think for him, this is just something that we couldn’t really offer it to him. I think where he’s obviously focused on something he does a good job with it,” Gibbs said.
“I think what’s most impressive is we know he can drive, Ryan (Newman) can drive, we know the equipment is great—Hendrick (Motorsports) stuff. I think getting the right guys around you is hard. He’s done a really good job of getting the right guys that really make it happen.”