FIRST, Tony Stewart was presented with 50 percent of Haas Racing. At the time, team owner Gene Haas was in prison for tax fraud (he's now free).
Then, Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, started assembling what would emerge as Stewart-Haas Racing. Darian Grubb was hired as crew chief, and Bobby Hutchens signed as director of competition. Ryan Newman joined Stewart as a racing teammate.
Normally, if such a concept exists in NASCAR, it takes time for a new team to find its way to Victory Lane. Stewart has done it in only 14 races.
Stewart won Sunday's Pocono 500 the hard way, from the back of the 43-car field. After tearing up his No. 14 Chevrolet in practice on Saturday, Stewart had to start his backup car from the rear of the field.
Stewart leads the points standings, by 71 over Jeff Gordon; Newman is fourth. Remarkable.
Now that Stewart has all the pieces of his teams in place, he says he is having fun just driving. The stressful part for him was assembling the personnel.
"The hardest part for me was last fall," Stewart said at Pocono after winning his 34th Cup race. "There were a lot of midnight meetings, where we had to sneak people in the shop, because they were somewhere else. The good thing is, when you hire the right people, it has made my life a lot easier this year."
Grubb, 33, didn't need much arm twisting to leave Hendrick Motorsports. While with Hendrick, Grubb won three races, starting with 2006's Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson, when he filled in for suspended crew chief Chad Knaus.
"I was not planning to be a crew chief [again]," said Grubb, a Virginia Tech graduate. "I was very happy [with] Hendrick Motorsports. Tony put that bug in my ear, [saying] he wanted me to be part of [building Stewart Haas Racing]. It's kind of hard not to get chill bumps from that.
"When you can read it in somebody's eyes and know how much it means to them, then you just want to be a part of it."
The veteran Stewart knows there will be some bumps in the road ahead. But right now, he's enjoying himself.
"It's fun to watch a young group like this that's so many people from so many different organizations come together and have success like this," Stewart said. "I was with a group of guys [at Joe Gibbs Racing] that when I won 33 races, they won 33 races, too. I still miss those guys. Sometimes, you just need a change to get that little shot in the arm that you need."
Stewart's shot is being heard throughout NASCAR.
Kyle Busch is one of the most talented drivers in racing. He's 24, but sometimes acts 14.
After winning the Nationwide Series race at Nashville on Saturday night, Busch decided it would be cool to smash the guitar presented to the winner. This wasn't just any guitar: It was a Gibson Les Paul model painted by NASCAR artist Sam Bass.
Busch figured he had been frustrated so many times at Nashville that if he won, he would smash the guitar and share pieces with his crew.
Brilliant. If I were a Busch crew member, I'd be thinking: "What am I supposed to do with a piece of an expensive guitar? I'd prefer a nice bonus check."
Busch still has a lot of growing up to do.
A future Indianapolis 500 winner could be racing at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville this weekend. The Atlantic series has produced such open-wheel stars as Danica Patrick, Dan Wheldon, Paul Tracy, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser.
Qualifying is scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday in the Atlantic and several other series. Races start at 12:05 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Check www.njmp.com for details. *