Tony Stewart feels it is too early to know if he can carry his championship-winning form in last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup into 2012.
The three-time champion finished the 2011 Cup season in dominant form, winning five of the final 10 races to beat Carl Edwards to the crown. Stewart and Edwards were the class of the field in the final couple of races, but speaking ahead of this weekend's Budweiser Shootout non-championship event, the reigning champion believes that it will take time to judge the competitive order for this year.
"I don't think you really know until you get two or three races into the year, to see what the results are from the winter and the hard work," Stewart said when asked if he expected to still have an advantage over the rest of the field. The hard thing is you have to improve through the winter and all the teams will improve.
"It's just a matter of if we get five percent better and someone else gets seven percent better – is that enough to put them ahead of us? I don't think we know until the start."
Stewart, who became the first owner-driver to win the Cup championship since 1992, added that the recruitment of crew chief Steve Addington and competition director Greg Zipadelli helped prevent any complacency in the Stewart-Haas squad over the winter.
"In all honesty, we have still been riding high," he said. "But we didn't sit there and say, 'Hey, we are celebrating a championship'. That lasted through the [end of season] banquet, then it was right back to work, immediately back on the job of trying to figure out how to do the same thing this year.
"It was easy to do that having Zippy and Steve come on board. Their focus was on what we were going to do this year so it got the whole mindset of the shop to not get lazy and think about what we accomplished last year."