Tony Stewart is proud of his Stewart Haas team's debut season in NASCAR even though he has fallen out of title contention despite leading the championship for a long time this year.
Stewart made an impressive debut as an owner in the Sprint Cup Series, leading the championship for longer than any other driver this year, and winning four races. The double Cup champion enters the final race of the season fifth in the standings, but says he could not be happier about how his season has turned out.
"I am like a proud father," said Stewart. "It has been neat to see over the last 13 months how this has all come together and progressed through the season. From that standpoint, I don't think I could be any happier.
"Obviously, we wanted to win the championship this year and, after leading the point standings, we felt like we had a good shot. We just couldn't get that run these last 10 weeks that we wanted. We will do what we can next year to try and pick up on that and improve on it."
Stewart, who led the points for 13 straight races before the Chase, says accidents at Talladega and Phoenix hit his chances of winning a third title. He also admits that Jimmie Johnson stepped up his performance during the play-off relative to the regular season.
"They've definitely stepped up," said Stewart about Johnson and his Hendrick team. "You can't take that away from them at all. Obviously the Talladega wreck didn't help us any and last week's wreck didn't help us any. So that's two weeks where we finished 20th or worse and that was a huge hit to us."
Stewart anticipates some changes to his team's personnel during the winter, even though he believes stability to be an important part of consolidating his outfit as one of the series' top squads next year.
"I think [stability] is important, but at the same time if you feel like you have to make changes, you have to do that," said Stewart. "You hope that you have the right core group of people in place where you're not making those changes, but you can't sacrifice that for not making the changes that are necessary. So you evaluate where you're at and that's where the next couple of weeks will be pretty important as far as analyzing. I already know that there are one or two guys who want to come off the road that have just been doing this a long time and they're ready to be home a little more.
"So you have to make changes because of that; you have to make changes because you're trying to improve your program. But you try to keep that core group as intact as you can."
In its debut season, Stewart Haas Racing was the only team to get all of its drivers in the Chase, as Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman also made it into the series playoffs.