When Tony Stewart decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to pursue ownership for the 2009 season, many people, myself included, expected him to struggle. Tony proved us wrong, winning four races and even led the standings for the majority of the season. However, with just one top five and only three top tens in 2010, this is the season we expected from Smoke last year. It hasn?t been terrible ? Ryan Newman won at Phoenix and Tony appeared to have a race winning car at Texas just three weeks ago. But after ten races, Stewart sits 15th in points and, statistically speaking, is having his worst season in his eleven year career. So Tony fans, should you be worried? Let?s break it down?
Reasons for concern ? I always like hearing the bad news first (this is obviously the good news if you are a Tony hater) so I will start with the negatives. The absolute number one reason to worry is that this has been going on longer than you might think. Since Stewart won Watkins Glen 24 races ago, he has only 3 top 5?s and 8 top 10?s. I know one of those top 5?s was a win at Kansas, but you could sense the drop off in performance in the final weeks of 09. You also have to wonder if the distractions of being a car owner is starting to catch up to Tony. In the past twenty years, the overall success of owner/drivers has been minimal (with the exception of Alan Kulwicki). Stewart is historically a slow starter, but this has been one of his worst slumps in his career.
Reasons for hope ? It?s still early. Tony doesn?t know what the problem is, but there is ample time to find it. With Newman finding success at flat tracks this year, you have to figure the 14 team will figure it out sooner rather than later. Although Stewart has five consecutive finishes outside the top 10 (top 15 for that matter), he still sits 15th in the points, 53 marks behind 12th place Carl Edwards. You also have to be encouraged with his run at Texas where he led 74 laps before getting caught up in accident, a wreck which he took the blame for. And the fact that there are no short flat banked tracks coming up any time soon has to be promising - upcoming tracks such as Darlington and Charlotte should help him out as they are comparable to Texas. Oh yea, I almost forgot about a couple of road courses he has had some success on!
No doubt about it, Tony Stewart is struggling. His numbers are down from previous years and has been a non factor in most races this season. Like I said, he is a slow starter, so this next month will be the real tell-tale sign of whether Stewart is a contender for the championship.
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