Stewart team quickly reaches top

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The duo of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman at Stewart-Haas Racing continues to roll on.

With 14 races in the books, Stewart and Newman, competing in their first year as teammates in Stewart’s new ownership collaboration with Gene Haas, find themselves first and fourth in the current point standings, respectively. With his win this past Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Stewart not only claimed the 34th win of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, he became the first driver-owner since Ricky Rudd in 1998 to win a points race. That’s a span of 375 races.

“Last year, there certainly were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of headaches going to bed,” Stewart said following his win on Sunday. “Once you get it all together and you get a good group like this and you’ve got a group that’s as hungry as this group is, they feed off each other. Really, all I have to do is walk in there and pat those guys on the back, because they are a lot smarter people than I am.”

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Newman, Stewart’s running mate and fellow Hoosier, has put together a string of six straight top-10 finishes. He was 32nd after the season’s fourth race, but has moved up 28 spots over the past 10 races. This is Newman’s best start to the season since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began in 2004. After 14 races in 2008, Newman, then competing for Penske Racing, was 14th in points.

“We’ve worked hard as a team to obtain our recent finishes,” said Newman. “Whether it has been pit strategy or just fixing mechanical problems during a race, it’s really been a team effort. We’re pleased with the recent results and where we currently stand in points, but we still haven’t reached the ultimate and that’s going to Victory Lane.”

Both Stewart and Newman have enjoyed a fair amount of success at Michigan. Stewart has one win — a race-shortened victory in 2000 — to go along with nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Newman is a two-time winner at MIS — winning in 2003 and again in 2004. He also has posted four top fives at the two-mile oval.

Chase for the Chase is tight

The battle around the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup “cut-off bubble” is as tight as it gets. A single point is the difference between competing for a championship and missing out altogether.

Mark Martin is 13th, one point behind Denny Hamlin. The gap between 12th and 15th place is only 62 points. Kasey Kahne is 14th, 60 points behind Hamlin, while Juan Pablo Montoya is 15th and 62 points out of 12th place.

Michigan is Roush country

Michigan International Speedway is considered to be the ‘home track” for veteran NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Jack Roush.

Roush’s home is Livonia, Mich., located just 45 minutes from MIS and is also the site of his business interests — Roush Industries.

Roush Fenway Racing drivers have won 10 times at Michigan, second only to the Wood Brothers’ 11 victories. His teams have won three of the last five races there. Carl Edwards has won twice at MIS, including the race last August. Greg Biffle has also won two times at Michigan, as has Matt Kenseth. Heading into this week’s LifeLock 400, Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth rank 6-7-8 in the series standings.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last victory

It was Father’s Day weekend, June 15, 2008, at Michigan International Speedway and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was back in Victory Lane. Fast forward a year later and the sport’s most popular driver hasn’t tasted victory since and has experienced more than his share of ups and downs on the race track over the past 12 months.

While that win was the 18th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and first while driving for Hendrick Motorsports, that victory didn’t generate the type of momentum that the No. 88 team had hoped it would. Earnhardt did make the Chase in 2008 — finishing 12th — but currently finds himself 20th in points.

Fast Facts

The Race: LifeLock 400

The Date: Sunday, June 14

The Track: Michigan International Speedway; 2-mile oval

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: TNT, 12:30 p.m. ET

2008 Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.