No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Crew Chief: Steve Addington
Average Start: 17.7
Average Finish: 12.0
Races Led: 21
Laps Led: 913
% Laps Completed: 99.3%
Points Finish: 1st
2011 in a Nutshell
For 26 races, Tony Stewart was good some weeks, not so good other weeks. But he did just enough during the regular season to get into the Chase for the third straight year as an owner-driver. When the Chase began, Stewart put together an all-time great run – winning five races, finishing in the top-eight in three others and winning his third Sprint Cup championship, and his first as a car owner.
Reasons to Believe
On sheer talent, no one matches Tony Stewart … Steve Addington has worked with temperamental drivers in the past and should have no problem acclimating himself to Stewart’s quirks … As demonstrated by what he did in the Chase, Stewart is a streaky driver who has knack for winning in bunches … There are only three tracks on the schedule where Stewart has never won and one of them is Kentucky Speedway, where he has made just one start … The addition of Greg Zipadelli as competition director is a terrific hire and will allow Stewart to focus more on just being a racecar driver … Danica Patrick’s arrival – i.e. more importantly the sponsorship dollars she brings with her – will be a big boost for an organization that has had difficulty finding sponsorship for all its cars.
Reasons to Doubt
Separating the owner part of the equation from the driver part has been difficult for Stewart and was something that hindered his relationship with previous crew chief Darian Grubb … One outstanding performance in the Chase disguises the fact that this team was just ordinary during the regular season … There is a very real possibility bringing Danica onboard could be too much of a distraction for a guy who already has a heap of stuff on his plate … He needs to improve at Dover where he was considerably off the pace last year … The same thing can be said for Bristol, a track where he has an average finish of 21.0 in his last six starts.
Area of Strength: Team depth
As long as Tony Stewart the car owner has Tony Stewart as his driver, he will always have one of the most talented drivers in the garage wheeling his equipment. Further more, Stewart bringing over Greg Zipadelli, his former longtime crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Steve Addington to replace the fired Darian Grubb, makes this the deepest collection of talent Stewart-Haas Racing has ever had entering a season.
Area of Weakness: Dover
Stewart’s magical Chase run of a year ago nearly got derailed when he flat stunk at Dover, finishing 25th, two laps off the pace. The thing of it is, that was an improvement over the spring race, when he finished six laps down in 29th. If those numbers don’t scream weakness, I don’t know what does?
Best-case Scenario For 2012
The momentum from the end of 2011 carries over to ’12, and from Daytona to Homestead, Tony Stewart is an unstoppable force, cumulating with him winning his fourth series championship.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
The magic carpet ride comes to halt, Stewart and new crew chief Steve Addington don’t click, and it’s a return to the malaise that swallowed Stewart for much of the regular season. Except, this time it’s enough for the defending champ to miss out on the Chase – much like he did the last time he won the championship.
In Their Words
“We were immediately back on the job of trying to figure out how to do the same thing this year. It was easy to do that having Zippy (Greg Zipadelli) and Steve Addington come on board, guys that weren’t really with us when we won the championship at the end of the year. Their focus was on what we were going to do this year, so it kind of got the whole mindset of the shop to not get lazy and think about what we accomplished last year and get working on what we can do to try to repeat this year.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 3
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
It’s hard to imagine Tony Stewart continuing at the torrid pace he had through the last 10 races of last year. On the other hand, it’s also hard to think there will be a noticeable drop-off with the loss of Darian Grubb, as Steve Addington is a more than worthy and capable replacement. But on paper, other teams look better and while I think the 14 team is a very good team, I think others are better.