As I watched The AdvoCare 500 from the comfort of my Laz-Y-Boy, I was contemplating the position that Tony Stewart has found himself in. He had the pole for the unusual Sunday Night race from Atlanta Motor Speedway, and from the time the Green Flag dropped, was unhappy with the set up on his car. He surrendered the lead on the first lap to Greg Biffle, and after regaining it for the next seven laps, would not be heard from, the remainder of the evening.
At times, Crew Chief Steve Additington was making wholesale changes to Stewart’s Number 14 Mobil One Chevrolet, and was unable to prevent a 22nd place finish, leaving Smoke, the only driver in the Top Ten who is not secure. Stewart has clinched at least a Wild Card berth in the Race For The Chase, but if he falls out of the top ten at Richmond, would lose his bonus points for the three wins he has this season when the field is reset. He is currently only 18 points ahead of Kasey Kahne and 23 ahead of Kyle Busch.
Now I know that Tony, and last years Crew Chief, Darien Grubb didn’t always see eye to eye, but the dude was very key in the miraculous finish Stewart had in Chase last year, which culminated in his third Cup Championship. I couldn’t help thinking as Addington hunted for a combination that would work on the old track at Atlanta, Denny Hamlin is hooked up, and oh yeah!! Darien isn’t having any problem keeping his driver out front.
If you have read any of my blogs, you know how important I think a crew chief’s role is when it comes to wining championships. I know Tony drove some great races down the stretch last year, but he had a great car to drive, and Grubb understood every angle regarding what it took to win that championship. Great drivers win races, great crew chiefs win championships.
The conversation has already started last week about a return of Greg Zipadelli to Stewarts pit box, but the rumors were quickly denied, as Zippy is reported to remain as the Competition Director for Stewart-Haas Racing, and Danica Patrick’s crew chief for her limited Cup races. I’m not sure that where there’s Smoke, there’s not fire, and would not be surprised if the rumor didn’t come to fruition.
We know how well Tony runs the 1.5 mile tracks, and I don’t expect him to go away without a fight, but I think Denny Hamlin is in the catbird seat with the better crew chief. He will probably begin the chase in first place on the weight of his four wins, and is looking like he is in Championship mode. After his 39 point loss to Jimmie Johnson in 2010, I know he wants it, and for my money will be the one to beat down the stretch this year.
Maybe next year Tony!
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