His 2009 Win Marked Beginning of SHR Success
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (May 17, 2016) – It wasn’t about the boatloads of money or the trophy. In fact, it really wasn’t about standing in victory lane for Tony Stewart that night in May 2009 when he won his only NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
To Stewart, that victory was about one person: Gene Haas.
The trip to victory lane was the first for Haas, who began his NASCAR organization in 2002, then added Stewart as a co-owner in 2009 to form Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
“What was so exciting wasn’t the $1 million dollars that we had just won, it was knowing that we had just won with a new partner,” said Stewart who passed Matt Kenseth on lap 98 of the 100-lap event, then edged Kenseth at the finish line by .971 of a second.
“To be able to give Gene (Haas) his first win, especially in that fashion, to win a $1 million payday and see him in victory lane was the most gratifying part of it. It was cool to win it, but to win it for Gene was the ultimate perk of the whole weekend, to see him smiling, finally seeing the results for all his hard work over the years.”
The victory was historically significant. It was Stewart’s first as a driver-owner with SHR. It marked the first victory for a driver-owner since Ricky Rudd won a points-paying race in October 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It was also the first All-Star Race win for Stewart, who had six top-10 finishes in 10 previous All-Star starts. Stewart became only the second driver-owner to win the All-Star Race, joining Geoff Bodine, who accomplished the feat in 1994.
Like Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains when they walked off into the fog in the final scene of the classic movie Casablanca, the 2009 All-Star Race was the start of a “beautiful friendship” between Stewart and Haas. Since then, Stewart has gone on to notch 16 more victories – 15 points-paying wins and the 2012 Budweiser Duel – plus a championship. SHR has won 31 points races and 28 poles, earned a second title with Kevin Harvick in 2014, and became one of the top teams in the sport.
Stewart will drive the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS Saturday night in his 18th consecutive and final Sprint All-Star race when he returns to the scene where SHR’s winning ways began. Only three drivers have more consecutive starts in the event, and Stewart hopes a victory will propel him like 2009’s win did when he won four of the next 18 races.
There are three segments in this year’s Sprint All-Star Race – a 50-lap opening segment, a 50-lap second segment and a 13-lap final dash to the finish with a unique rule. For the first time in the event’s history, the starting order for the final segment will be determined following a random draw that decides if the top-running nine, 10 or 11 cars have to pit for a mandatory four-tire stop between second and third segments. Pit road will be closed for all other cars, and those for which pit stops are mandated must resume position for the final sprint, lining up behind the cars that did not pit. It is expected to create an unpredictable, no-holds-barred rush to the checkered flag and All-Star history.
Stewart said he is likely to review the new race rules with his crew chief Mike Bugarewicz before the green flag falls Saturday night.
“I normally sit in the driver’s meeting and I don’t totally understand it,” he said. “When we get out of the driver’s meeting, I ask the crew chief to re-explain it because there are a lot of moving parts. That’s what’s cool about the All-Star Race. It’s not the same as we run every week or anywhere else. It’s a unique race and a unique format and it’s a really cool deal for the fans to see.”
With no points and a $1 million payday on the line, the All-Star Race is an event that satisfies both the driver and owner. So, it’s tailor-made for Stewart, and maybe, just maybe, the start of something really cool when the Sprint Cup cars return to Charlotte May 29 for the Coca-Cola 600.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What stood out the most about your win in the All-Star Race?
“Probably the best part was the fact that it was the first chance that Gene (Haas, co-owner) had gotten to come and watch the team run. For him to come to the track and the first night out go to victory lane, that was a pretty cool welcome back party for him. That made it a huge night for the organization to be able to have everybody there and not feel like somebody got left out. Everybody was present for it. Guys who don’t get a chance to come to the track get to come to the track that weekend. So, it was cool to get guys in victory lane for the first time.”
How much was the victory a relief and how much of it was a sense of exhilaration?
“Well, we’d been running well before the All-Star Race, but I don’t think any of us had an expectation of when we thought we’d win a race. I felt in my heart that the team was capable of winning a race in the first year at some point, but I never would’ve dreamed it was going to be one of the biggest races of the year, especially in our backyard. I think that’s really what made it so big – that it happened much sooner than a lot of people anticipated. There were a lot of people who didn’t know what to think about what we were trying to do. I think it really sent a message about how dedicated our organization is to being successful. It kind of quieted a lot of the naysayers and a lot of people who were on the fence trying to decide if I’d made a good decision or not (to become a team owner). I think standing there on the stage and getting the check was a pretty good statement.”
What’s the best thing about winning the All-Star Race?
“Well, the greatest thing about it is, if you win the thing from a car owner’s standpoint, which I now know very well, it’s a great way to pay bills. It helps that out quite a bit. This weekend’s a fun event. It’s not a typical Cup race, by any means. The format is strictly set up for an exciting finish for the fans. It’s cool. It’s a big deal when we come to Charlotte and it’s not because of anything more than the fact that the guys who work at the shop every day and don’t get a chance to go to the racetrack, they get a chance to go to Charlotte. They get to come see their racecars that they work on during the week. Instead of just watching them on TV, they get to be there, they get to see what the road crews are doing, and they get to be there first-hand. And that’s a big sense of pride if you have a good night. And to be able to celebrate with guys who never get to go to the track, if you can win a race at Charlotte, it’s big. This weekend, we’re racing for $1 million. That’s definitely nothing to pass off lightly.”
Because the All-Star Race is a non-points event, does it take on the same kind of importance as a regular, points-paying race?
“It’s an event for the fans and that’s something that’s very important to us, but there’s a lot of bragging rights, too. Charlotte is an area where 95 percent of the Cup teams are based so, when you go there, you want to run well. You’re able to have guys come from the shop that don’t get a chance to travel. They don’t get a chance to come to the racetrack very often and see the fruits of their labor, so for them to come to the All-Star Race and see their cars run, especially when you have a good night, it really pumps up your organization. You do it for your fans but, at the same time, you do it for your organization and your team. That’s why the All-Star Race is important.”
Can the All-Star Race be used as a test session for the Coca-Cola 600?
“Absolutely. It always is. If your car is driving well, you’re running for $1 million. But if your car isn’t driving well, you’re learning from that and applying it to the 600, instead. I’ve always looked at it as however your car is driving in the All-Star Race is relatively true to how your car is going to drive in the 600. It’s a really good test because it’s really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions. At the same time, the style of racing is very different. Guys who run well in the All-Star Race will run well in the Coke 600, but they’re not going to beat and bang like they might in the All-Star Race.”