Monday Morning NASCAR recap: Dover victory changes complexion of Stewart's season

USA TODAY Sports

A frustrating season for Tony Stewart was dramatically altered with a surprise win Sunday at Dover.

As he continued to be mired in the worst start to a season of his career, the speculation was ramping up concerning Tony Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team.

Was crew chief Steve Addington going to be replaced? Had the addition of a third team for Danica Patrick along with the changeover to NASCAR's Generation-6 car, proven to be too much for an organization without the manpower of the sport's bigger teams?

Whatever the reasoning, the results were simply not there for Stewart, nor the team bearing his name. Heading into Dover, he had just two top tens on the year with a best finish of seventh and hadn't won a race since Daytona last July.

From the onset Sunday, it didn't appear as if the slump was going to be broken at Dover. On Lap 100 Stewart was running 20th and barely hanging on the lead lap. At the halfway point of the 400-lap race he was scored in 15th.

Yet, methodically the No. 14 car gained speed allowing the owner/driver to creep up the leaderboard. And while he didn't have the look of a driver capable of winning the FedEx 400, with a handful of laps remaining, Stewart was in line to score a season-best finish.

But with the help of sound pit strategy by Addington, Stewart was in position to capitalize when, with 19 laps remaining, Jimmie Johnson was black-flagged for jumping the restart.

And with three laps to go he motored by Juan Pablo Montoya on the outside and into the lead, and just like that a season full of frustration had been flipped and Stewart's 30-race winless streak was over.

"Our guys have never given up, Stewart said following his 48th career victory. "There's been a lot of dejected guys all year and disappointed guys all year ... but nobody is walking around with their heads down. They are all trying to find a solution and that's what makes days like today so special is when you have guys that just do not quit and they refuse to give up."

What made the victory even sweeter was the process by which it was achieved.

Lacking speed throughout the weekend, Stewart was convinced Sunday would be just another long day. He, along with Addington and competition director Greg Zipadelli, had no answers.

What Dover represented was a workmanlike effort with small incremental steps. There was no magical cure-all where the 14 team solved the issues that had been plaguing it all season.

"This means more to me going from where we were Friday to where we are today than having a weekend where we show up and we are quickest in practice, sit on the pole and everything goes right all weekend," Stewart said. "It's much harder to do it the way that we just had to do it over the last 48 hours."

The win would seemingly resolve any doubt that changes are afoot at SHR, in particular whether Addington would continue on in his role. But according to Stewart, any insinuation that he would fire his crew chief was not only flat wrong, it was also preventing the team from solving its woes.

"I'll be honest, it pissed me off because it was a big distraction to my team, my organization," Stewart said. "It kept us from doing our job, because people are hearing rumors and reading what you guys write, and was totally inaccurate and unprofessional in my opinion.

"I don't need that crap. I've got enough stuff to worry about, keeping three cars competitive and trying to get them in that state and having to deal with a bunch of bull crap that's inaccurate and speculation."

Whether the rumors were merely that or an accurate assessment of what was transpiring behind the scenes no longer matters. What matters is, with one victory, Stewart's season has changed its complexion completely.

Before Sunday, there was little indication that he was on the cusp of being competitive, let alone winning.

Now though, with a victory in his pocket, Stewart has the inside track to securing a spot in the Chase via a wildcard berth. Sitting 16th overall, he is the only driver outside the top ten in points and inside the top 20 with a victory.

Which means instead of worrying about personnel changes, Stewart and his team can focus their attention solely on winning. And the team's namesake wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think it's truly been a team and an organization that has rallied around each other -- there's 200-plus people that just refuse to quit," Stewart said. "They just won't stop. There's nobody that says what we got is good enough and what we're doing is good enough."

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