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Surfing the big ones: Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman

Tony Stewart (R) and now teammate Ryan Newman: their 2005 duel at Loudon was a classic (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   So just how long can Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman hold on, just how much longer can they keep riding this wave?
   For a team fresh out of the box this season, albeit with facilities already in place, though not chemistry, Stewart and Newman have been downright stunning.
   Not only is Stewart leading the NASCAR standings midway through the season, but Newman, after a rough start, is a solid sixth.
   And this in a season where veteran Richard Childress doesn't even have one of his four teams in the title hunt yet.
   Now Stewart and Newman return to one of their best tracks – remember their dogged duel in 2005?
   Stewart last summer was lined up for another win at this Bruton Smith-Bob Bahre track (and who could have imagined that Bahre would sell his stake to Smith). He led 132 laps, but rain – a constant worry here in the New Hampshire wilds 90 minutes north of Boston – cost him, when the race was stopped 17 shy of the distance. Kurt Busch gambled on not pitting as the rain began falling, and he wound up the winner.
    With title rival Jeff Gordon still complaining about back pain (and that problem-filled run at Sonoma last weekend didn't help), Stewart is looking comfortable enough in the Sprint Cup standings to be able to gamble.
   "I think we're in a situation now where we can take a couple of extra chances if we feel like we might be able to get another win and pick up those 10 bonus points going into the fall," Stewart says. "It's definitely a situation we're able to utilize because of where we are in the point standings. 
    "It really doesn't matter where you are as long as you're locked into the top-12, but those bonus points are going to be important.  So if you  go from first to sixth in the points because you're taking chances to gain those extra 10 bonus points, it's really not a penalty."
   Beside with the horsepower edge that Stewart, Newman and the rest of the men running Rick Hendrick engines appear to have, well, why not gamble…particularly at this track, where Stewart points out "it's a big motor deal. 
   "With the corners so tight, you've got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. 
    "Forward-bite is always an issue too; so it's hard to get up off the corners. 
    "Then you've got long straightaways.  Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it's hard to not only get the car stopped but to get it to turn. 
    "It's a tough track to pass on.  You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him."

     Newman, who won the rain-shortened 2002 race here, and then beat Stewart in that stellar 2005 duel, says "more than anything, this is a track-position race, because it's a flat track.
    "And the double-file restarts will make the race even more interesting."
    Newman says his team "has really excelled on the short tracks…and New Hampshire is another one where I think we should have success.
   "We got top-10s at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. And we would have had a better finish at Phoenix had we not had radio complications."
   However at the bigger tracks, Michigan and Sonoma the last two weeks, "haven't been the finishes we wanted.
    "But I think we will be able to get back on track this weekend. I've had a lot of success at New Hampshire, in both qualifying and the race.
    "Our team is knocking on the door of winning. If we keep doing what we're doing, and putting ourselves in position to win, then we will get what we want.
    "The past two races haven't been our best; we've had some problems. But we have been able to recover from any issues we had during the race and get a decent finish in the end…when we could have come out much worse.
    "That's what's important when we are looking at the big picture -- having a chance to make the chase for the championship.
    "Yes, we want to win, and I believe we will."
    And maybe over on Lake Winnipesaukee too: "There is some great fishing in the area, so I have a good time whenever I go to New Hampshire," Newman says.

Ownership & Partnership

I, too, think the level of Stewart-Haas success is remarkable. Your point about chemistry is valid. However, it is unfair to give Stewart the same Owner/Driver title that past owner/drivers shared (e.g. Kulwicki, R. Gordon, D. Waltrip). Those drivers don't/didn't have a mega-team to lend them technical (and marketing?) support the way that Hendrick is helping S-H.

you're absolutely

you're absolutely right....but then stewart is the guy in charge....remember this is essentially the same operation that millionaire gene haas ran since 2002 with hendrick support.
and to be honest -- if nascar were really interested in the next alan kulwicki, it wouldn't be dumping on all the sport's little guys. some of nascar's moves lately have been, well, almost disgusting. what do you think bruton smith would do if he owned nascar?

Great point about NASCAR's

Great point about NASCAR's attitude toward the little guys. I think they're making a BIG mistake in this regard. In my opinion, one of the greatest aspects of NASCAR is that, theoretically, anyone can start up a team and go racing. The small, independent teams (e.g. Robby Gordon) keep this dream alive. Without this possibility, NASCAR is just like the other big money stick-and-ball sports where only the super-rich can buy a franchise to get in.
NASCAR's "big money" attitude seems to be what is killing the Truck series and Grand National series, too. Purses are too small and the travel requirements are so high that only the big teams (Gibbs, Hendrick, Rousch) can compete. It's awfully tough for a little guy to break into those series, too.
Wouldn't it be great to see Bruton Smith take over the Grand National series?!

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