Commentary

Smoke has one eye on Chase, one eye on Stewart-Haas Racing

Forgive Tony Stewart for being a little distracted at the racetrack these days. As a Chase contender and brand-new co-owner of a Cup team, Smoke is rising to new heights, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: August 12, 2008, 12:52 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Team owner mode has kicked in for Tony Stewart. He's multitasking at the racetrack.

[+] EnlargeTony Stewart
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterTony Stewart on contending for the Chase: "I'm still worried about what I'm doing in my car, too. I almost forgot what it was like to do postrace interviews."

Moments after his second-place finish at Pocono Raceway, his best showing in almost five months, some of Stewart's thoughts were about the Sprint Cup team he now co-owns -- Stewart-Haas Racing.

Scott Riggs ran with the leaders most of the day, but settled for 29th in the No. 66 Chevy for SHR. Tony Raines drove the No. 70 SHR car to an 18th-place finish.

Those results aren't usually praiseworthy for a man who expects to run up front and win, but Stewart understands his new team is a work in progress.

"I'm really proud of what those guys have done," Stewart said. "I think [Riggs] did a great job. And I'm proud of what Tony did. He had a great qualifying run [18th] this week."

It's unlikely Riggs or Raines will have a spot on Stewart's team next season. Riggs, who has raced all year in the 66 Chevy, said he doesn't expect to be back. Raines was making his first start for the team.

"We've got a lot of evaluating to do over there right now," Stewart said. "That's the hard part. You know there's going to be some good people that have to go."

Stewart spent several minutes explaining how he plans to do things with his team. When you watch him discuss it, it becomes clear why he was willing to leave a successful ride in the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing to take on the daunting task of team ownership at the highest level of the sport.

He loves it. He loves making something better than anyone thought it could be. He enjoys the challenge and he welcomes being in charge, but he also is sensitive to the side of the job that affects people's lives.

"It's easy to let your emotions get caught up in making decisions," Stewart said. "It's tough because there are people you know and have relationships with. But you have to sit down as a group and evaluate it together. The hard thing about this is trying to figure out what's exactly the right thing to do."

Stewart said he learned from his other racing teams that sometimes the right thing involves going against your personal feelings about an individual.

"I had to do this with one of my best friends when I let Danny Lasoski go from our World of Outlaws team," Stewart said. "It wasn't easy. But you have to think about what's best for the whole organization."

While reviewing the assets of his new employees, Stewart also is trying to make sure he ends his time at JGR on a high note. He's ninth in the standings, but this is a down year by his standards. Stewart hasn't won this season.

"I'm still worried about what I'm doing in my car, too," Stewart said. "I almost forgot what it was like to do postrace interviews."

But his struggles this season may help him do a better job as Cup team owner.

The best players don't always make the best coaches. You need to know what life is like on the other side.

"When you slump like we have this year, it makes you appreciate having a good day," Stewart said. "After nine years of success, it's easy to take this stuff for granted."

Ryan Newman

Newman

Newman discouraged after Pocono run
It appears the end can't come fast enough for Ryan Newman. His lame-duck status at Penske Racing shows more every week.

Newman, who is expected to join Stewart's team next year, finished 14th at Pocono, but wasn't happy with the performance of the No. 12 Dodge.

"Strategy was important, but our Dodge was disappointing," Newman said. "It would not go down the straightaways. You're not going to win races like that."

During the rain delay, Newman also complained about the car.

"I did what the crew chief [Roy McCauley] told me to do [about pitting],'' Newman said. "But we are not fast enough to pass a bunch of cars."

Call Martin Mr. Positive
The pit crew guys for the No. 5 Chevrolet are going to love Mark Martin next year. He has your back no matter what happens.

Martin led the most laps at Pocono and probably had the fastest car on the track, but he had to settle for an eighth-place finish after the No. 8 Chevy crew had problems on two consecutive pit stops.

Many drivers would show their dark side in that situation and let the crew have it over the radio, but not Martin. He works through positive reinforcement.

"Come on, guys. We can do this," Martin said when he left the pits after the second slow stop. "You guys have been the best all year on pit road. It's OK. Y'all can do this."

Ford promotes Chevy
Mike Ford, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, had a funny moment during the Pocono race Sunday when he flashed back and referred to Hamlin's car as the FedEx Chevy instead of the FedEx Toyota.

"Uh-oh," Ford said. "That's gonna be a penalty."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter