NASCAR.Stewart's latest moves not that odd 8.13

Written by David Green.

NASCAR NOTES

with RICH FOLEY


Stewart’s latest move not that odd


Many in the NASCAR community expressed the opinion that Tony Stewart had lost his mind when he announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2008 to became driver and co-owner of the struggling Haas CNC team.

After all, Stewart had won 32 races and two NASCAR Cup championships with the Gibbs team while the Haas CNC outfit had never came close to winning a race, even when having drivers as noted as Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton behind the wheel.

It’s an indication of how desperate team management was that they basically gave Stewart half ownership of the team just for signing on as driver. But was Stewart wise to accept the deal?

The idea of owner-drivers in the NASCAR Cup series has come and went a couple of times in the past. In NASCAR’s early years, many drivers owned their own teams. By the mid-1960s, most top drivers had signed on with factory-backed team owners, leaving only struggling independent drivers to run their own operations.

Bobby Allison won seven races in his own car in the early 1970s, driving it in races his regular team owners chose to skip. After his last owner-driver win in 1974, it was 14 years until the feat was repeated.

Long-time journeyman driver Lake Speed ran the race of his life at Darlington in March 1988, winning for the only time in his career. He gave hope to all of his fellow independent drivers, but Alan Kulwicki was the one who lived the dream to its fullest.

Kulwicki scored his first Cup win in November 1988, but he didn’t stop there. He won again in 1990 and 1991. He also won 24 poles during his career. Even with his success, Kulwicki was never quite able to secure sponsorship on an even dollar level with the sport’s top teams. But it didn’t matter in 1992.

Kulwicki won twice that year and squeaked out a Cup championship in the final race of the season. In the meantime, Darrell Waltrip had started his own team in 1991 and won two races, then added three more in 1992.

When Kulwicki was tragically killed in an airplane crash early in 1993, other drivers jockeyed to buy his team and join the owner-driver craze.

Geoff Bodine eventually bought Alan Kulwicki Racing and won three races in 1994 and another in 1996. Ricky Rudd started his own team from scratch in 1994 and won six times between 1994 and 1998.

Other drivers tried to run their own teams with less success, but even the big names tired of the increasing demands on their time to run a team and court sponsors in addition to their in-car duties. Bodine sold his team and returned to driving only after the 1997 season. Waltrip sold his operation in mid-1998. Rudd made it through the 1999 season before returning to “hired-gun” status.

In recent years, both Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon have tried the owner-driver combination. Even with major sponsorship, Waltrip’s experiment has been disastrous. Gordon has fared somewhat better, but has been unable to secure sponsorship befitting a major team, hindering his efforts to return to Victory Lane. That’s one problem Tony Stewart appears to have solved.

While long-time backer Home Depot will remain with Gibbs, Old Spice, an associate sponsor of Stewart’s for years, will move to his new team as co-major sponsor. Stewart has added Office Depot, now a sponsor on the car of Carl Edwards, as the other major sponsor. Stewart plans to run a second car, but driver and sponsor have yet to be named.

Stewart seems to be the kind of person that can make this work. Like Kulwicki, he’s a bit of a perfectionist and will probably run through quite a few employees until he finds a group he’s comfortable with. Once that happens, the sky’s the limit.

Stewart is already a successful owner of several open-wheel racing teams and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, one of the country’s legendary short tracks. After he has total control of his Cup future in his hands and Stewart-Haas Racing is running to his satisfaction, that third Cup championship could be just around the corner.

  • Girls.on.ride
    NADIYA YORK and Aniston Valentine take a spin on the Casino, one of the rides offered at Wakefield Park during Morenci’s Town and Country Festival. This year’s festival remained dry but with plenty of heat during the three-day run. Additional photographs are inside this week’s Observer.
  • Front.softball
    Angela Davis (2) and teammate Allison VanBrandt break into a jig after Morenci's softball team won its third consecutive regional title.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016