Published February 18, 2013
For the most part, all the, active, championship-caliber NASCAR Sprint Cup team owners are, shall we say, mature men. Roger Penske and Richard Petty are 75, Joe Gibbs is 72, Jack Roush is 70, Richard Childress is 67 and Rick Hendrick is the youngest of the group at a mere 63.
Then there is Tony Stewart.
At just 41 years of age, Stewart is more than 20 years younger than any other active NASCAR team owner who has won a Sprint Cup championship.
And, heaven knows, mature isn’t the first word anyone would like use to describe Stewart. He is a fierce and tenacious racer who has a goal of running at least 100 races this year in NASCAR, the World of Outlaws, USAC and whatever other series he can find.
He has won the USAC Triple Crown, an IndyCar championship and three Sprint Cup titles. Stewart has excelled behind the wheel of anything and everything he’s ever driven. His peers rightly regard him as one of the best racers in history in any series.
Stewart is also sarcastic, occasionally contentious and one of the funniest people you will ever meet. Last May at Talladega, furious about a rules package that ended up with cars overheating and bunch more wrecked, Stewart gave a hilarious and completely deadpan post-race interview.
“Honestly, if we haven't crashed at least 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50 percent of the cars,” Stewart said with a straight face. “It's not fair to these fans to see any more wrecks than that, any more torn-up cars. I mean, we still had over half the cars running at the end, and it shouldn't be that way.”
But behind the one-liners and snark is an extremely successful racer and entrepreneur.
In 2012, Stewart became the first owner/driver to win a Sprint Cup championship since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992 and his business acumen as a race-team owner and track owner/operator is the envy of many in the industry.
Add it all up, and it’s easy to see why Danica Patrick chose to come to Stewart-Haas Racing.
Yes, Patrick made history with her Daytona 500 pole on Sunday, triggering a media frenzy that will continue until the 500.
Taking nothing away from Patrick’s groundbreaking pole, the three Stewart-Haas Racing cars were first (Patrick), fourth (Ryan Newman) and fifth (Stewart) in Daytona 500 time trials on Sunday. SHR uses Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis, yet the four Hendrick cars were second (Jeff Gordon), sixth (Kasey Kahne), 11th (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and 21st (Jimmie Johnson). Using Hendrick equipment, the SHR cars were better than the Hendrick team cars, an impressive achievement, to be sure.
Stewart credited the improved performance of his team’s cars to SHR’s partnership with engine additive maker Mobil1, which has worked with the team to come up with special, low-drag lubricants unique to Daytona and Talladega.
“We've been working really hard the last year trying to find stuff specifically for restrictor plate tracks,” Stewart said. “The technology that we get from those guys, it is so cool to have a partner that not only is painted on the hood of the car but can actually help our racecars go faster. That's what we've got with those guys. The Mobil 1 people have done an awesome job.”
The Mobil1 deal has been the best of both worlds for SHR in that it brought in much-needed cash to the team, as well as the ability to make the team’s cars go faster. That was quite a feather in Stewart’s cap and one that likely will continue paying dividends.
Still, the star of the show this week at least, is Patrick.
Without question, Stewart has had faith in Patrick from the beginning, even if her learning curve in the first two seasons didn’t always seem as rapid as some of the other racers coming up through the ranks.
“I think she's got potential,” Stewart said of Patrick. “I think she's got a lot to look forward to. I think she's going to turn some heads this summer. Whether it's consistent or whether it's one or two races at a time, none of us really know.
“It's as much my guess as your guess at this point. But I believe in her. The team believes in her. Our organization believes in her. We're going to do everything we can to make her as consistent and fast every week.”
For SHR, which still has up 21 unsponsored races among the three team cars, Patrick’s pole and the team’s overall performance on Sunday was hugely significant, just as the added media attention is for NASCAR as a whole.
“We're three separate racecar teams, but we're all working together for a common cause and goal,” said Stewart after qualifying on Sunday. “That's what makes days like today so special, when you have all three teams that run that well together. We're all sharing in the success. Our team is sharing with Danica. Ryan's team is sharing with Danica. She's sharing our success. We've got a lot to be proud of, and those pairings are a part of that.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.