(Sam Sharpe/US Presswire)
What makes it clear that Tony Stewart will soon fly high as an owner-driver is that he has learned the value of bonding between driver and team, down to every fabricator in the shop, every tire carrier on the pit road.
That's why Stewart the boss was so much happier for his worker bees than for himself, Stewart the driver, after they won the All-Star Race on Saturday night.
"To get these guys on the team that haven't been to Victory Lane yet, to get them there for the first time, that means more than a million dollars [the posted prize money] to me," he told reporters at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "It's that gratifying to get this group of guys in Victory Lane.
"It's about seeing those guys and seeing them celebrating and smiling in Victory Lane when I got there, seeing how happy they were and the excitement on their faces."
Stewart learned the hard way back at Joe Gibbs Racing, when the driver-team relationship was sometimes so tempestuous as to make his old crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, cry in exasperation.
Last year, Stewart was handed 50 percent of Haas CNC Racing, which had never been to Victory Lane at the Cup level and had and owner, Gene Haas, who was in federal custody for tax fraud.
Haas was at Lowe's on Saturday night, having just been released from a 16-month term.
Except that this was Stewart's first All-Star win, victory was nothing new for the two-time Cup champion who has 33 points wins. Nor was it new to his crew chief, Darian Grubb, who won the 2006 Daytona 500 subbing as pit boss for Chad Knaus, with Jimmie Johnson.
But it was new for Haas and many of the shop employees, some retained from the old Haas team, others newly hired as Stewart expanded and rebuilt.
And Stewart -- whose ownership in a team seems to have matured him more than his years as he rapidly approaches 38 -- knew the value of showing a winless team that it can break through.
No owner-driver had won the All-Star race since Geoff Bodine in 1994, and no owner-driver has won a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in '98.
And most observers thought Stewart would have a rough time, at least starting out, as a team owner.
But he is second in points, with five top-5s in the past six points races. And the old NASCAR rule of thumb is that if you keep putting yourself in position to win, you will win.
Stewart and his new band of friends had a convincing dress rehearsal for that Saturday night.
Nationwide Series: Hornaday, 50, hits 40; Busch hits brakes
"It's unfortunate that our night really ssss-stunk that bad," Busch told Speed TV after being sent to the back of the field twice on penalties but still finishing second.
The hissing sound before "stunk" indicated Busch might have been running on the ragged edge of using his more-preferred vulgar verb, which connotes the creation of a semi-vacuum with the mouth.
But he saved it, and went on: "and we finished second!"
Of his 40th win, Hornaday, 50, shrugged in Victory Lane at Lowe's Motor Speedway and said, "I didn't even think about that."
Hornaday took the lead for keeps on the 107th of 134 laps when he blew past Busch into second place and then past Matt Crafton in one blistering charge.
The win vaulted Hornaday into the series points lead over Mike Skinner, who was knocked out of the race in a horrific-looking crash only 35 laps into the event.
Squeezed into the grass by Johnny Sauter, Skinner's truck went sideways and slammed almost head-on into the SAFER barrier at the once-deadly "1 o'clock angle" that biomechanical engineers used to fear so greatly.
It was a similar angle to the one at which Dale Earnhardt hit the wall and was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
But with safety innovations since Earnhardt's death -- the SAFER barrier, the HANS head-restraint device and cocoonlike safety seats -- Skinner was able to radio his crew almost immediately after his truck stopped tumbling and tell them, "I'm OK."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Racing Resources SaysSprint Cup Series
- Tony Stewart won The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, winning $1,058,656. It was Stewart's first All-Star Race win in his 11th try.
- Stewart Haas Racing scored its first win.
- Stewart led only once for the final two laps.
- Stewart is the seventh driver to win more than a million dollars in the All-Star Race. He finished ninth in the first segment, eighth in the second segment, and sixth in the third segment.
- Stewart joined Geoff Bodine (1994) as the only owner-drivers to win the All-Star Race.
- It was the 14th win for Chevrolet in the All-Star Race, most of all manufacturers.
- The driver who wins the All-Star Race has gone on to win the Coca-Cola 600 six times.
- Segment One Winner: Jimmie Johnson -- $25,000.
- Segment Two Winner: Kyle Busch -- $25,000.
- Segment Three Winner: Jeff Gordon -- $125,000.
- Ron Hornaday Jr. won the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Hornaday posted his series-leading 40th victory in his 231st race; his last victory came at Texas in October.
- Hornaday scored his second series victory at Lowe's in his fifth race.
- The last time Hornaday won at Lowe's in a Kevin Harvick Inc. truck was in May 2007. Team owner Kevin Harvick won the All-Star Race the following night that season.
- Kevin Harvick Inc. scored its 19th series win -- 14th by Hornaday -- and 23rd NASCAR victory.
- This is Hornaday's eighth win on a 1.5-mile track, one behind Todd Bodine for the most all-time in the series. Hornaday became the fifth race winner in the six races of 2009. He led once for 29 laps.
- Hornaday won everything Friday; he was the fastest in first and last practice and was sitting on the pole when rain cancelled time trials.
- Hornaday took over the points lead by 84 over Mike Skinner. Skinner finished 29th.
- Nine of the top 10 in points changed positions.
- John Jackson, 34th, made his series debut. Taylor Malsam was eighth, his best career finish. He was the highest-finishing rookie contender among the six rookies in the race.
- The top 10 consisted of five Toyotas and five Chevrolets. The highest-finishing Dodge was Jason White, 23rd. Rick Crawford, 11th, drove the highest-finishing Ford.
- Kyle Busch, second, was as low as 24th on lap 33 after serving a pit road penalty for too many crew members over the wall.
- On Lap 87, Colin Braun was wrecked while leading by Busch. Braun, who led 43 laps, had led only 28 laps in his career coming into the race. Busch was sent to the rear on the restart for rough driving.
- Bodine spun while leading on Lap 95.