They were all wrong.
|Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart both qualified for the Chase in 2009. (Getty Images)|
His two-car effort included Ryan Newman as a teammate, and the team's inaugural season saw both drivers qualify for the Chase.
Stewart also became the first owner-driver to lead the point standings since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 and first one to win a race since Ricky Rudd in 1998.
"For a first-year team, I have to give us an A," Stewart said. "If we could have won the championship, you would give yourself an A-plus, but for a first-year team an A or an A-minus is appropriate for what had to come together in such a short amount of time. The changes and trying to get people organized and equipment ready, and just so many new people working together for the first time -- I think we've done fairly well."
Stewart grabbed the points lead following the May race at Dover International Speedway after scoring his ninth top 10 finish in the first 13 races of the season. He scored his first points-paying victory at the following race in Pocono. Earlier in May, Stewart won the All-Star race.
With the Dover race, Stewart began a run of 10 consecutive top-10 finishes through the summer that included two more victories at Daytona and Watkins Glen.
He never lost the points lead during the regular season, despite four finishes of 11th or worse in the races leading up to the Chase.
But when the Chase started and the points were reset, Stewart was bumped to second and never regained the lead. He ended the season sixth in the standings with one additional victory in the Chase at Kansas.
"I am like a proud father. It has been neat to see over the last 13 months how this has all come together and progressed through the season," Stewart said. "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."
|Team review/preview series|
|Dec. 7||Independents||Dec. 21||Roush-Fenway|
|Dec. 9||Waltrip||Dec. 23||Gibbs|
|Dec. 11||Red Bull||Dec. 28||Penske|
|Dec. 14||Petty||Dec. 30||Stewart-Haas|
|Dec. 16||Childress||Jan. 4||Hendrick|
In addition to his successful year, Stewart saw his Newman make the Chase with five top five and 15 top 10 finishes on the season.
"Just by getting two cars in the Chase and winning the races we've won this year exceeded more than many could've anticipated, and what we could've anticipated," Stewart said. "We knew on paper that it was possible, but the reality of it was going there and competing against great race teams every week."
Newman's first season driving a Chevrolet after coming from the Dodge camp at Penske Racing got off to a rocky start, posting an average finish of 27.8 in his first four starts. He started his turnaround in March at Bristol, where he finished seventh for the first of eight top 10s in the next 10 races. The end result was a jump from 32nd to fourth in the standings.
"Honestly just the teamwork, the friendships I've created, the relationship with Tony Stewart, all of the people parts of it has been a pleasant surprise because I didn't know what to expect," said Newman, who finished ninth in the Chase. "I didn't take time to expect because if you expect high things then you can be disappointed very easily. So I went into it with the mindset of let's just do my job, focus and work together and see what happens."
With a year under its belt, Stewart-Haas should be even stronger in 2010. However, the team may not have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone after its stellar freshman season.
"I think it's an important year for us as an organization because we've done a lot of great things with people's lesser expectations," Newman said. "I think next year people are going to have a lot higher expectations."
One of those people is Stewart, who feels there is room for improvement.
"We won races and made the Chase but we didn't win a championship," Stewart said. "That's obviously the goal for every team and ours is no different. We have the talent here and the resources to do it, and I fully expect both Ryan and myself to take what we built here in Year 1 to the next level."
Stewart will have to figure out how to stop the wheels coming off the No. 14 team's effort once the Chase starts, and Newman needs to avoid digging himself into a big hole at the start of the season like he did in 2009.
But the potent duo proved a lot of people wrong by their success in the team's first season. There's no reason to believe both won't be contenders for a title run again next year.