Winning has a way of curing even the most troubling ailments for a race team. Just watch Tony Stewart’s reaction to winning Sunday’s race at Dover. His face showed palpable relief as he celebrated in victory lane, his first win since last July at Daytona.
But Stewart Haas Racing needs more than just one win to dig out of the rut they’ve found themselves in to start 2013.
Stewart had just two top-10 finishes prior to Sunday’s win. Ryan Newman has six top-10s, but has also finished 31st or worse five times, including 36th at Dover, putting him 20th in points. Danica Patrick’s lone top-10 finish came in the Daytona 500. She was 12th at Martinsville, but Patrick hasn’t finished higher than 24th in the other 11 races, leaving her mired 29th in the standings.
Of the three, Stewart by far has the best chance to turn his season around and make the chase. His win at Dover propelled him from 20th in the points to 16th—not great, but it’s progress.
Currently, Stewart is the only driver from 11th to 20th in points who has a win, which at the moment gives him an advantage for a wild card spot; though no driver should count on just one victory to be enough.
Time is on Stewart’s side, however, as his season typically kicks into high gear during the summer months. Overcoming such a lackluster start will be difficult, but Stewart should never be counted out. Even if he doesn’t muster another victory, which seems unlikely, consistent top-10 and top-5 finishes should be plenty to put him in the Chase.
In his 15-year NASCAR Sprint Cup career, Stewart has only finished outside of the top 10 in points one time, 11th in 2006, before NASCAR expanded the Chase field from 10 to 12.
Newman has a higher hill to climb, though a win or two and more consistency would at least push him into wild card contention.
Patrick, however, can really only hope to crack the top 20 in points. Her average finish is 26.31 through the first 13 races, and she’s only run upfront at the restrictor plate tracks. It’s easy to forget that this is Patrick’s first full season in Cup, so her focus should be on gaining experience and keeping her cars in one piece.
Despite the dreadful start to 2013, Stewart continues to prove his prowess as a successful owner/driver—something very few have accomplished in the era of multi-car powerhouse organizations.
Tony Stewart the owner has a multitude of responsibilities to each of his race teams; but when Stewart gets in his car, there’s no one better to drive his team back into contention.