Ahh, it was so great to not just have cup cars out on the track but to have those cup cars to be racing. No matter what the format of the Shootout or how drivers qualify for the Shootout, I look forward it because to me it signals the beginning of the season, points be damned.
I admit during the off season, while reveling in the fact that my driver won his third championship, I’ve been pondering the momentum SHR may or may not carry into the 2012 season. Last season was not the best of seasons for Tony Stewart and his #14 Office Depot/ Mobil 1 team. I don’t think even Tony would argue with me there. Granted there were some near wins during the regular season, like Las Vegas (which broke my heart because I knew how much he wanted to win there after our interview and to see him come oh-so-close only to not win) and the more positive 2nd place in New Hampshire (where he finished second to teammate Ryan Newman). But despite a few bright spots (that were not winning so how bright could they really be) was frustrating for our driver (and his fans right). I honestly don’t think I have ever worried as much as I have about Tony making THE CHASE (NASCAR’s version of playoffs/Championship) as I did this last 2011 season. Luckily he did by the skin of his teeth (whether or not he thought he deserved it).
Then it was like someone flipped a switch. Tony’s CHASE run was nothing short of amazing, with the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team winning a record 5 out of 10 CHASE races. And don’t even get me started about that race at Homestead, that amazing race that Tony NEEDED to win. He not only managed to win but passed 118 cars to do it. A race where the team and driver had to overcome damage early in the race, a bad pit stop, a rain delay and you know 42 competitors. A race where it was quite obvious that the driver was….well driving his ass off. Oh yeah and they happened to take home a CHAMPIONSHIP because if it. That rocked.
Even though the season ended on a high note, that doesn’t mean that the momentum will follow through and don’t think that doesn’t worry me. SHR underwent some fairly major changes at the end of the season and during the off season. There were sponsor additions (Outback and Quicken Loans) for Ryan Newman’s car. A new crew chief, Steve Addington, was hired for Tony Stewart, after letting go Darian Grubb. The long empty Director of Competition position was filled by Greg Zipadelli (big surprise there right?) after being vacant most of last season. And the BIGGEST change of all, the addition of a third, albeit part-time team with the #10 of Danica Patrick. Yes, technically the car is fielded by TBR but we all know that was done to guarantee Danica a start in the 500 without having to sacrifice Tony or Ryan’s owner points. So that adds a new crew (maybe- Stewart-Haas has a third pit crew they offered out to other teams) and a new quasi-teammate to the mix. That is a whole lot of change for an organization. Change that may (or hopefully may NOT) hinder momentum because there are new people getting use to an existing organization and an organization getting use to new people.
That being said, I am VERY pleased with what i saw at the Shootout momentum wise. Considering that Tony’s car had signifigant damage during practice and the team was able to repair the car and get it to point where he was obviously very competive, it is exciting to witness. Yeah, Tony didn’t win but he came darn close. Even Kyle Busch mentioned during his postrace that he hooked up with Tony because he knew that the 14 was fast. So as a fan of SHR and in particular Tony Stewart, I am definitely liking what I am seeing from my team so far this very young season.
Now, as far as the 500 on Sunday? It’s going to be a crazy race. NASCAR worked hard during the off season to break up the tandem drafting and judging by the Shootout, it worked. The return of “pack” racing is something I find crazy stressful to watch at the superspeedways. Packs mean there is less room to correct for an “oopsie” with out hitting someone else. Recovery space is limited. When you do make a mistake (and someone always does- it’s human nature) there is a very good chance that multiple cars will be involved, thus a better chance of a more “spectacular” crashes. And when I say “spectacular” I really mean “scary as hell, oh god please let driver x by okay” kind of crashes. So there is that to worry about.
On the plus side, Tony WAS strong in the shootout. Hopefully he will be equally strong in his Duel race. And for those who like numbers- this is Tony Stewart’s 14th Daytona 500. I think it’s time for him to finally win one! I know Tony must want that jewel in his crown- who wouldn’t.
So…#GoTonyTo and as always #ImWithSmoke!
Also- be sure to check out our new “Misty’s Mazin’ Moment” column- this week she tackles The Shootout. And her Misty’s Messed her unMentionables moment of the Shootout!