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It's certainly been a roller coaster ride for Tony Stewart over the last 15 months, with the lows tending to come out on the track while the highs have been delivered in his capacity as team co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which won the 2014 driver and team championships on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Kevin Harvick at the wheel.
"It's unbelievable," said Stewart on Sunday evening. "It is so hard to win a championship at this level, and NASCAR in general, and especially with this Chase format. Every week it showed how intense it was, how much pressure there was on the drivers, the crew chiefs, the crew members, pit crews. Just unbelievable how much everything had to go right and how special it was when big moments happened.
"I think the evidence of that was with less than 20 laps to go when you had all four championship contenders in four consecutive spots on the racetrack with each other," he continued. "You expect one of the four or two of the four to have a problem tonight, and it really didn't materialise. All four guys had speed and were competitive all night. It came down to the last pit call of the night for each guy and the drivers doing their part. It was pretty exciting to see how it played out.
"If you want to know how hard it is to win a championship here, it boiled down to the calls, the last pit stop and the strategies that were played," Stewart added, giving particular praise to Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers "One took zero tyres, one took two, we took four, and one had a problem in the pits. I think up to that point it was pretty evident the flow of the race up to that point, but I think that was the moment in the race where nobody really knew exactly how those strategies were going to play out.
"I think all three of the crew chiefs made calls that they thought were appropriate for how their cars were running and track position, and I'm proud of Rodney," said Stewart. "It takes guts to sit up there and see a guy stay out and then have to sit there and make that call. It was a gutsy call by Rodney to stick to his guns and do what they had been doing
"But it also shows the depth and how good Kevin Harvick is at digging his heels in in those moments, just like Charlotte and just like Phoenix. When it comes to the bottom of the ninth and you've got to make something happen, that's the guy I want in my corner and that's the guy that Gene and I want behind the wheel of our cars," Stewart insisted. "I think he demonstrated those two weeks why he was capable of being in that scenario at the end and making this happen."
It's Harvick's first year with SHR after 12 seasons at Richard Childress Racing without winning the title although he was third on three separate occasion. That he's managed to do it first time out at a brand new team was testament to all involved as far as Stewart was concerned.
"Never been more proud of the opportunity that we've had with Gene to be a part of this with everybody at Stewart‑Haas, and really proud to not only have a team mate - a driver - but most of all one of my best friends be out there taking pictures as champion this year. That's a great feeling to be up here and be a part of that with both of these guys."
Gene Haas - who is currently in the process of building another new team from scratch, this time to compete in the Formula 1 world championship from 2016 - was equally thrilled by what the organisation he had founded with Stewart had managed to achieve this year. It's the second title that SHR has won, with Stewart himself claiming the honours in 2011.
"You win a championship once, maybe you call it a fluke, but if you do it the second time, I think we've got something," said Haas. "I couldn't put my finger on it, but there's something there that works ... Things get done, people like working with each other, and for the most part, I think we're a very productive group at Stewart‑Haas Racing.
"I think it goes back to the DNA of Stewart‑Haas Racing," he offered. "Basically it's not like a micromanaged company. Obviously Tony has been a professional racer all his life, and I think he brings that kind of attitude towards how we deal with the employees there. We don't really treat employees as employees. They're kind of part of a group, and we respect everybody's opinions, and we kind of allow a lot of freedom in what people decide. I know different organisations have different management strategies, and if anything, our strategy is more of letting people that know what they're doing do their job, and I think that really works well.
"Tony Stewart has this remarkable ability to draw so much talent from the Sprint Cup garage, and I think that's just all part of it," he added. "Sometimes I'm in awe. You don't get too many chances to get up to bat and take a chance to win a championship, and quite frankly, every single time we had to do something, Kevin Harvick made it happen.
"That's something that's so hard to do, and he made it work, and Rodney was behind him, and they actually make it look easy," Haas pointed out. "Kevin Harvick and Rodney are obviously a dream team. They've figured out how to make these cars go fast, which is no easy feat, and I'm totally in awe."
While it's been a dream year for Stewart and Haas as team owners, it's been a very different picture for Stewart as a driver out on the track, where the last 15 months have been little short of a nightmare.
Stewart's 2013 championship campaign ended prematurely when he was involved in an accident in a regional sprint car race and broke his leg in two places forcing him to sit out the rest of the season - he still wasn't fully healed for the first race of this season at Daytona.
A year later Stewart was involved in another regional racing accident. Stewart himself wasn't hurt but his dirt track race car hit a competitor who had walked back onto the track after a crashing out, with 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. subsequently dying from his injuries. Stewart sat out the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races while the accident investigation went on, which ended when a New York state grand jury found that Stewart had done nothing to warrant facing any criminal charges.
Missing three races would not have necessarily put Stewart out of this year's Chase play-offs, but his lack of any race wins did. His best result in 2014 was fourth place at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring, which he matched again in the autumn visit to Martinsvlle Speedway during the Chase, but there was no denying that by Stewart's standards it had been a very lean season in terms of results.
In fact it was the first time since 1999 that the 43-year-old three-time Cup champion had gone a full season without at least one race win, and the season ended on a suitably downbeat note when Stewart was forced to retire at Homestead because of damage to the radiator leaving the #14 with chronic overheating issues, ensuring he ended the season listed in 43rd position - dead last - while Harvick was on his way to victory lane.
"It doesn't make up for a bad year," said Stewart, contrasting his success as an owner this year with his struggles behind the wheel. "I mean, I've had a terrible year. But this makes the end of November great.
"He's probably been more of a help to me this year than I've been to him," added Stewart, lamenting now having been able to make a greater contribution to Harvick's title campaign this year. "But the great thing is, we understand each other."
Based on how he'd won his most recent title in a tie-breaker with Carl Edwards, Stewart revealed one piece of advice that he had been able to hand down: "I told Kevin when we were riding back to the motor homes after the meeting was over, our deal in 2011 was a perfect example that no matter what happens it's not over until it's over. No matter if there's a miscue, you've got to fight, and you've got to fight all the way until they drop that chequered.
"I can promise you from experience - and Kevin knows from experience now - you get to this seven days, and having your friends and having that advice and people that you know, your equals, having that advice from them, sometimes that's just the calm voice or word that you need to get through the day.
"I'm just glad tonight turned out," he added. "You know, the rest of it's history. We've talked about it over and over. Honestly, I'm tired of talking about it to be honest at this point. I'm more excited about what this organisation and what this group of people has done together.
"You know, there's a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them," he declared. "I'm going to enjoy this moment, and I'm going to enjoy it with this group and this young man.
"We're going to go celebrate and enjoy this because this group of people here have deserved it, and this is a great family and this is a great group of people to lean on."
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