Stewart may find the road to team ownership will be a rocky one
SI.com's Mark Beech offers the most intriguing news, notes and analysis fans need to know heading into each week's race.
Now that Tony Stewart has made his decision, now that he's set to begin the next phase of his career as an owner/driver, it seems a fitting time to consider what he's up against. As befits a man who relishes a challenge, Stewart has not made it easy on himself for a variety of reasons, and it will be interesting to see how one of NASCAR's most notorious grumps adapts to so much responsibility.
The first person I thought of when I heard the news yesterday was Ray Evernham. Here was a man, who as a crew chief, enjoyed a reputation nearly as stellar as the one Stewart has as a driver. But when Evernham broke off on his own in 1999 to form his own team, Evernham Motorsports, he found out that his success as a crew chief didn't guarantee success as an owner. While his shop has enjoyed some good times, it has also seen its fair share of struggles. And when Evernham Motorsports joined forces last year with Canadian businessman George Gillett Jr., Evernham decided to take on a role to which he is better suited. This season, instead of wearing a suit and hitting the road to drum up sponsorship money, he has taken to hanging around the shop figuring out the best ways to make his cars go fast. The results are showing on the track.
So it only took Evernham nine years, but how long, if it ever happens, will it take Stewart? Driving a car and running a race team are two different things, and though it has been done successfully in the past by some of NASCAR's greatest drivers (Junior Johnson and Lee Petty come to mind), this is a new era. Look no further than Chip Ganassi Racing, where poor performance and lack of sponsorship forced the closure of Dario Franchitti's team, for an example of what owners are up against these days.
Of course, I can't imagine Stewart having any trouble attracting sponsors, and his enthusiasm for the business side of racing has been thoroughly demonstrated by how hands-on he is as the owner of Eldora Speedway, a small dirt track in rural Ohio. Can he pull this off? He certainly seems as capable as any driver on the circuit.
But I think only one thing is certain. Stewart is going to be a fixture in the Cup Series -- in one capacity or another -- for a very long time. That can only be good for racing.
How to Drive
Elliott Sadler talks about racing at the Joliet, Ill., track: "Chicagoland may resemble places like Kansas and Vegas, but it's different. Each one of those tracks is unique in their way. At Chicago you've got to watch yourself coming off of Turn 4. It gets pretty narrow there and it's real easy to run out of room if you're two, sometimes three, wide."
2: Career DNFs at Chicagoland -- In four starts -- for driver Kasey Kahne, who has never finished higher than 23rd at the track.
5: Top-10 finishes at Chicagoland -- in six career starts -- for driver Jimmie Johnson.
82: Laps led by Johnson last year at Chicagoland, when a crash prevented him from finishing the race and he finished 37th.
10: Laps led at Chicagoland by Kahne in four starts.
July 14, 2002: One year after winning the inaugural Tropicana 400, the first ever Cup event at Chicagoland, Kevin Harvick wins the race again. It is the second-year driver's only victory of the season, and he goes on to finish 21st in the points standings.