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Stewart looks back on 'awesome year'

By Associated Press
Sunday, November 15, 2009

AVONDALE, ARIZ. -- Tony Stewart won't win the Sprint Cup championship this season, and his bid to join the late Alan Kulwicki in the NASCAR record books will have to wait at least another year.

That won't change how he views his first season as owner of his own race team.

"I think it's hard to be disappointed, no matter where we end up," Stewart said Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway, where the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 will be run Sunday.

Stewart-Haas Racing stormed out of the gates this season and had solidified itself as a championship contender by May. As Stewart built a lead of 179 points through the first 26 races, he seemed poised to become the first owner-driver since Kulwicki in 1992 to win the championship.

As an added bonus, teammate Ryan Newman also claimed one of the 12 berths in the field for the chase for the championship.

But neither contended for the title. Stewart, who started the chase seeded second, is fifth in the standings with two races remaining. Newman is ninth.

Regardless of where they stand after next weekend's finale at Homestead, Stewart will be pleased.

"Just by getting two cars in the chase and winning the races we've won this year exceeded more than what any of you guys could have anticipated, and we could have anticipated," Stewart said. "We knew on paper that it was possible, but the reality of it was competing against great race teams every week.

"So to be able to accomplish this goal has been an awesome year for us."

Stewart is right in that few thought he'd have success in leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, where he won two championships and 33 races, to become part-owner of Haas CNC Racing. The team lagged behind in sponsorship, and molding it into a contender was supposed to be a long and arduous task.

But Stewart has had remarkable luck in landing sponsors -- he chalked it up Saturday to the charm of the good looks of him and Newman -- and the increased funding was the first step in building a winner.

His streak continued this weekend, when the U.S. Army said it would be back for 15 races as Newman's primary sponsor next season. On Saturday, Stewart introduced Tornados, a brand of Ruiz Foods, as a five-race sponsor for Newman.

"This is a time when you don't see a lot of new groups coming into the sport," he said. "When we made the decision to start this venture last year and Ryan came on board, I think everybody kind of rallied around that and I think that's what's attracted a lot of these corporations to be a part of our family."

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