Can Stewart-Haas Racing recreate the drama of 2011 and bring home another Sprint Cup championship?
The combination of excellent equipment and what Tony Gibson, crew chief for SHR driver Ryan Newman, called “good, old-fashioned racing people” earned SHR and team co-owner Tony Stewart the title last season.
This year, it’s a different setup. Steve Addington is on board to replace Darian Grubb as Stewart’s crew chief, and Danica Patrick joins the team to run a third, part-time car in the Sprint Cup Series. Greg Zipadelli, formerly Stewart’s crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, is the team’s new competition director.
It’s a new mix, but there’s every reason to expect that the team will again be in the hunt with the big dogs.
“You know, Stewart's just an old redneck guy that loves to race and will drive everything,” Gibson said. “Everybody at our place, we just love racing. We grew together, and things happened probably a little faster than most expected.
"But when you put a bunch of guys together that all they want to do is win and perform and run up front, things like that happen – partnered up with Chevrolet and they make things easy, too. They give us all the things we need to improve our race teams and our company. We have great sponsors.
"So when you put all that in a bowl, it's got success written all over it. … Ryan's one of those guys you want driving, because he's going to give you 110% whether you're two laps down or leading a race by half a lap. Doesn't matter, you get the same effort out of him.”
Matt Borland, the team’s vice president of competition, said SHR has been able to succeed because of the “little things.”
“We have a lot more people to do a lot more things to be more specialized at what we're looking at and refining things,” he said. "I think the biggest thing that's come about with that is we're able to dive down into the details of the program. With the cars the way they are now, there's not huge gains to be made. There are small gains to be made in a lot of areas. So it takes a group of very strong people that can go and try to find all those little things.”
Newman said that sort of work must continue if SHR hopes to contend again.
“You can win a championship one year – doesn't mean you're going to win it the next year,” Newman said. “You have to work really hard. Other teams, when you win, you build fire and desire within them. So you have to have that same fire and desire within yourself to go back and do what we did as an organization last year.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 29 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.