Not to throw the apple of discord into the middle of a love feast, but Tony Stewart's unqualified success as a new owner/driver may be the biggest threat to Tony Stewart's unqualified success as a new owner/driver.

More on that shortly, but first, let's make a distinction between owner/driver Tony Stewart and others who have preceded him. After Stewart's victory in Sunday's Pocono 500, the first statistic on the race notes sheet distributed by NASCAR read like this:

"This marks the first win in the (Sprint Cup) series by an owner/driver since Sept. 27, 1998 (Ricky Rudd, Martinsville Speedway)."

Stewart, however, is not an owner/driver in the same sense that Rudd or 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki were. Rudd and Kulwicki built their respective successes with shoestring budgets and skeleton staffs. To his credit, Stewart has assembled a juggernaut.

To his credit, Stewart took the existing infrastructure at ne'er-do-well Haas CNC Racing and transformed it from an organisation that had never won a race to one that has earned two trophies this year (the non-points Sprint All-Star Race and the Pocono 500) and has streaked to the top of the Cup standings.

To his credit, Stewart's well-oiled, well-funded organisation features handpicked, quality personnel in all key jobs, with lucrative sponsorship deals from Office Depot, Old Spice and the U.S. Army in place to make sure he meets the payroll.

To his credit, Stewart has capitalised - and then some - on the most valuable asset Haas CNC Racing brought to the table during negotiations that ultimately gave Stewart an ownership stake in newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing.

That asset? Haas CNC's existing relationship with Hendrick Motorsports.

Stewart's engines and chassis come from Hendrick, so in essence, he and team-mate Ryan Newman are Hendrick customers driving Hendrick cars. For his crew chief, Stewart hired Darian Grubb, a brilliant engineer thoroughly versed in the Hendrick methodology - because he helped develop and refine it.

It was Grubb, you'll recall, who won two of four races with Jimmie Johnson in 2006, subbing for suspended crew chief Chad Knaus. It was Grubb who made the fuel-mileage call that helped give then-Hendrick driver Casey Mears his only Cup win in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.

You could hardly blame Johnson and Knaus if they're at least a little annoyed that Stewart is a real threat to unseat them in their bid for a record four straight Cup championships. Nor can Jeff Gordon be totally happy that Stewart may jeopardise his chances for a fifth title in a career that may end prematurely if Gordon's back troubles can't be fixed.

Team owner Rick Hendrick clearly enjoys Stewart's success. At the end of the season-opening Daytona 500, those scanning Stewart's radio frequency heard Hendrick's voice congratulating the two-time champion on his eighth-place finish. When Stewart won the All-Star Race in May, one of his first well-wishers was Hendrick.

Stewart is the consummate racer, and you can't blame Hendrick for valuing the relationship, which helps the bottom line in a tough economy and enhances the prestige of the both organisations. But is the relationship with Stewart worth potential dissension within the Hendrick ranks?

"Under the right circumstances, it can be a great relationship because we can get more from them, they can utilise our resources better, and they can continue to stay a great customer," Gordon said last year after the Stewart-Haas deal was announced. "When they start being competitive with us, that's when we have to think about where they stand."

And if they start winning too many races?

"They can win races - as long as we're not finishing second to 'em," Gordon said. "Then we've got to renegotiate."

Gordon's reference is pointed, and it's a history lesson for Stewart. Back in 1992, a start-up operation called Joe Gibbs Racing leased engines from Hendrick Motorsports. The death knell for that vendor/customer relationship came in 1995 when Bobby Labonte won three races for Gibbs (once at Charlotte and twice at Michigan).

Hendrick drivers finished second in all three races, and Gibbs soon found himself in the position of having to start his own engine programme.

For now, Stewart can enjoy his success.

"It's been a honeymoon to this point," he said. "We haven't had to go through the lows yet. ... We will get a dose of reality at some point in this equation. Every race team does. It's been a honeymoon where I don't have to worry about giving half back right now, so I'm going to enjoy it as long as we can."

For Stewart's sake, however, it might be beneficial to hit a few speed bumps sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the honeymoon might well become the best, brief part of the marriage.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News