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Guy Noir's Post-race teardown: Tony Stewart is very impressive...and very impressed


Tony Stewart has a new team, new colors, and a new number -- 14 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Well, well, well, Tony Stewart's debut as owner-driver was quite the thing Saturday night.
   Even the boss was impressed, and gave nods to new crew chiefs Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson and technical manager Bobby Hutchens.
   "I don't know if we had the fastest car, but we had one of the best-handling cars," Stewart, third behind Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurraay, said. "We could put this thing anywhere.
   "I am surprised how comfortable I have been in this thing from day one and really happy with the Hendrick engine obviously that has been a big plus.
   "We have a direction…got the first one out of the way…everybody has the cobwebs knocked off.
   "It was wild, and I was a little nervous when I realized I put us four-wide there on the bottom. But that is what got us to third. We were in the right place at the right time."
    So Stewart's first race with new crew chief Grubb in his ear went well: "It was very calm. It is definitely different than Zippy (long-time crew chief Greg Zipadelli).
   "But the good thing is I hear the confidence in his voice, and that makes me confident in the car too, knowing he isn't guessing at what he wants to do, he knows what he wants to do. With a new crew chief, that is what you want.
   "I don't think we were a third-place car but we had one of the best handling cars….though I am not sure we were one of the fastest cars.
   "We know what we have to work on."
   When Stewart first took the lead, he admits he was a little emotional. "That is a big moment for anybody that takes on a big undertaking like this. The first race out of the box and lead it in the first 20 laps, that is something to really be proud of."
   Stewart these past few weeks has been remarkably upbeat and confident about what lies ahead as an owner-driver. Yes, it's Rick Hendrick equipment, but there is more to running any business than just the equipment.
    "Believe it or not, I was more comfortable this year that I was last year," Stewart said."I was really happy with my car. It was just a matter of keeping track position, and not getting bogged down.
   " I was really happy with our Hendrick engine…and I was very, very impressed with Darian and the crew. It doesn't even feel like the first nigh; it was like we carried on from something else.
     "I don't know how you can be disappointed with a top-three the first date. It wasn't the prettiest top-three. But we drove our way up there.
  "I'll be honest, I just wanted to finish the race. I wanted to get through the live pit stop, through the second segment of the race.
  "Even if we didn't finish the race, as long as we got through that first pit stop, that was going to be good that we got those guys in that mode.
  "I wanted to stay out of trouble. It wasn't that we played it safe, it's just that was my goal -- If we can finish this thing, we'll take whatever it gives us.
  "These last two days were really important for Darian and me to work together. I'm going to bed with a lot of confidence."


  Tony Stewart (L) and former car chief Jason Shapiro (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)


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