Then Stewart won at Martinsville and again at Texas to give him four wins in eight races. The Sprint Cup championship was firmly in his reach, and it sure didn’t seem like there were any reasons for Stewart to make changes to his organization.
Addington, laid back by nature, watched and waited. But when Stewart capped off his remarkable title run by winning the season-finale at Homestead to snatch the championship away from Carl Edwards, Addington finally got nervous.
A text message from Stewart calmed him a bit.
“I’m laying in the bed ... sitting there thinking, ‘What’s this guy thinking? They just won a championship. Are they going to change their minds?’” Addington recalled. “Couldn’t sleep and then the phone blew up – I got the text of, ‘No pressure, bud.’ ”
And so the plan was set in place: Addington announced he was leaving Penske Racing after a tumultuous tenure with Kurt Busch and moving to Stewart-Haas Racing to be the crew chief of the defending NASCAR champion.
Darian Grubb, despite guiding Stewart to five wins in the final 10 races of the season, was out of a job.
Stewart also successfully recruited Greg Zipadelli, his former longtime crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, to leave that team and join SHR as competition director.
Now, as the defending champion heads this week to Daytona International Speedway for the start of the 2012 season, he’s got to prove he didn’t make a mistake in overhauling his organization. In true Stewart form, though, he’s scoffing at the notion he’s under any pressure.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” he said before motioning toward Addington. “You need to ask him. I feel just fine.”
Stewart said his and Addington’s personalities fit.
“We’re just low key, down-to-earth racers and hardcore racers that want to race. That is the attitude that Steve has coming in here,” Stewart said.
“I’m not putting any pressure on him. I’m looking forward to going out and racing again.”
Carl Edwards, who lost the championship last season on a tiebreaker to Stewart, will try to come back from that disappointment. And Jimmie Johnson, who had his five-year run snapped last season, wants very much to get back in the mix after a career-worst sixth in the final Cup standings.
Then there’s Danica Patrick, who is officially a full-time NASCAR driver. After two years of dabbling in stock cars while she finished her IndyCar Series career, Patrick has made the jump to NASCAR. She’ll run the full Nationwide schedule for JR Motorsports and 10 races for Stewart in the Cup Series.