"The biggest [key] to Tony's success has been the fact that he has Hendrick equipment and he's basically teammates with Jeff, Jimmie, Mark and Dale," says a driver on a rival team who requested anonymity. "Hendrick has been the dominant team this year, and Tony is obviously benefiting from that. People tend to forget that Tony didn't build this from scratch."
In November 2008 Stewart made his final significant hire when, after six weeks of lobbying, he persuaded Bobby Hutchens to become SHR's competition director. The 49-year-old Hutchens, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from N.C. State in 1982, was among the first college-educated engineers hired full time in the sport when, in 1988, he went to work at Richard Childress Racing, where he helped Dale Earnhardt win four Cup championships. Hutchens now runs the day-to-day operations of SHR and on race weekends assumes ownership responsibilities, such as keeping an eye on the budget. Why did he make the move? "Same reason as almost everyone else here," Hutchens says. "The chance to work with Tony."
RIGHT AWAY SHR FLASHED ELITE SPEED. WHEN STEWART and Newman rolled onto the track at Daytona International Speedway last February, their lap times were among the fastest in the field. As Haas watched the practice sessions for the Daytona 500 from his home in Oxnard, Calif., he went bug-eyed. It was as if Stewart had waved a magic wand over the entire organization. Wow, this is different, Haas thought to himself. We're running in front!
Stewart led 15 laps in the 500 and finished eighth, while Newman wound up 36th after being slowed by a loose wheel. But as the temperatures started to rise in the spring, Stewart—as is his custom—began to heat up. Stewart grew up racing in the Midwest on dirt tracks, where the cars slip and slide through every turn, and he excels on sunbaked, slick tracks. To the surprise of most on the circuit, his cars were equal to his talent. From May 2 at Richmond (where he finished second) to Aug. 10 at Watkins Glen (where he won), Stewart roared to 10 top five finishes in 13 starts. Most seasoned observers in the garage believe that Stewart is driving at the highest level of his career; the occasional lapses of concentration that plagued him at Gibbs Racing over the past few seasons are no longer an issue. "I think he's clearly driving better than he was at Gibbs," Haas says. "This is his own show now, and he's responding to that. Trust me, he's working as hard as anyone in the sport."
The demands on Stewart's time are relentless. On an 11-day binge of work in August, he slept in 10 beds and set foot in seven states, fulfilling obligations around the country ranging from appearances for his sponsors to working in the pits with his World of Outlaws team in Knoxville, Iowa, to racing at Michigan International Speedway. But Stewart's most important hour each week takes place at the Stewart-Haas headquarters, where every Monday afternoon he takes a seat at a competition meeting attended by all the team's key players. Hutchens runs the meeting, but Stewart has the final call on all major decisions.
"Tony has been a great boss," Grubb says. "He reminds me of Mr. Hendrick in the way that he treats everyone as if they're family. I wish everybody could see this side of Tony."
1 LINING UP EQUIPMENT AND ENGINEERING SUPPORT
THE first step in starting a new team is also the most important: securing resources. Before Stewart even made his first hire for SHR, he shaped a deal with Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick agreed to supply Stewart-Haas Racing with engines, chassis and engineering support. This was critical for Stewart, because it instantly gave his embryonic organization access to topflight equipment and the brightest minds in the sport.