NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart won his third championship this past season. Conventional wisdom and history indicates that the Cup Champion doesn’t typically win the championship again the next season. With the exception of Jimmie Johnson, who has been the exception to almost every rule, there has not been a repeat champion since 1998. The reasons for this are that the Championship Team doesn’t know if they are doing anything wrong, or if they need to be faster, have better pit strategy, since they are not getting beat there is nothing to change. This time it’s different.
During the regular season Tony Stewart and his team were running good but not good enough to win races. As was proven by Tony himself the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format is now all about winning races. Tony said “If we are going to run this bad, it really doesn’t matter whether we make the Chase or not.” Before the Chase even began Tony Stewart had decided that he needed something different to win races. “I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here,” Grubb said. Darian Grubb would be replaced with Steve Addington. Tony has never said publically what Darian was doing or probably not doing that made the change necessary. Now that we know Darian was able to guide the #14 Chevy to a championship we can only speculate that it had something to do with driver crew chief communication and not really a reflection on Darien’s capabilities. Steve Addington’s comment “Tony and I are a lot alike and we’re able to push each other,” seems to indicate this as well.
During the season Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) parted ways with their Director of Competition. This position, although not directly responsible to either the #14 or #39 cars results, is responsible for making sure they have whatever they need to perform their best. It is no secret that Tony Stewart has always wanted to be reunited with his old crew chief Greg Zipadelli with whom he won two championships at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Now that Greg Zipadelli has been released from JGR he has been hired to fill the position of Director of Competition at SHR. Greg Zipadelli said “We’ve just really, truly respected each other. We can be very honest with each other and not worry about hurting each other’s feelings. I trust and believe in him as much as I do anybody else on this earth.” Although this is a new position for Greg, one can only think having a senior multi Championship crew chief as your Director of Competition can’t be wrong. Especially if that person is highly respected, trusted and a good friend. Tony Stewart the team owner has his back office in order and only needs to work on driving the race car.
The entire season Tony was running well but was not winning races. He was not getting the race finishes he wanted. As noted above he did not think his team including himself deserved to be in the chase. Somehow when he got to the chase he stepped it up. Got his confidence back. Won an unprecedented five of the ten Chase races. Unlike many Champions before him, he did not run away with the Championship. He fought for it. Tony Stewart brings that momentum with him into the next season much like many of the other teams which turned it on at the end of last season and got better.
So despite being the current Sprint Cup champion he and his team has been planning for next season. Tony has a new crew chief that will challenge him to be better, a director of competition that he respects and trusts entirely and most importantly the fire, desire and confidence to win races and the Championship. Look out drivers, Tony will be better this year than last year. By this time next year we could very easily have three active drivers that have four or more championships.
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