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Tony Stewart is no Alan Kulwicki

By admin | June 9, 2009

By Richard Allen

Anyone who has the title of owner/driver in front of his name and has success in NASCAR is ultimately going to be compared to other successful owner/drivers in the sport’s history.

Tony Stewart is having a great deal of success as an owner/driver in 2009. He won the Sprint All Star Challenge and most recently he visited victory lane in Pocono. And, he currently leads the Sprint Cup standings.

As a result, many have talked or written about the difficulties of owning a NASCAR Sprint Cup team and at the same time driving for that team. Few have been able to do both successfully in the last couple of decades.

Among the most well known and successful owner/drivers in relatively recent memory was Alan Kulwicki.

There are only a few similarities between Stewart and Kulwicki. Stewart owns half of the team he drives for along with California businessman Gene Haas. Kulwicki owned the team he drove for. And, both men cut their racing teeth in the Midwest.

However, the similarities do not go much beyond that point.

Unfortunately, Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash near Bristol, Tennessee in April of 1993. He had won the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup(Sprint Cup) championship the season prior.

Where Kulwicki differed most from Stewart is in the way he ran his team. Kulwicki was very much a hands-on owner/driver. He had an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and he put that education to use by actually working on his cars in the shop throughout the week before driving them on the weekend.

It is unlikely that Stewart has the time, whether he has the actual know-how or not, to do such a thing. Today’s NASCAR drivers, for better or worse, have so many obligations to do such things as make sponsor related appearances, commercials and the like that they could not possibly do the sort of work Kulwicki once did.

Aside from being a great driver, Stewart is an excellent businessman. He not only has a race team to worry about but he owns the Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio as well as having interests in other tracks.

Last year when he was approached in regard to accepting half interest in the team he now drives for, the businessman in Stewart could hardly have passed such an opportunity by. Even though he had been a part of one of the most successful driver/team relationships in modern NASCAR history, he left Joe Gibbs Racing to open a new chapter in his career.

Even though the Haas team had two cars struggling to make it into the Top 35 of the standings and the team’s owner had been sentenced to federal prison, an essentially free gift of half interest in a NASCAR team was still too good to turn down.

Unlike Stewart, Kulwicki did not have the luxury, or perhaps even the desire, to build a successful career and recognizable name first then be essentially handed half of a NASCAR team. He built his company from the ground up.

Kulwicki was known for being a meticulous boss who had a hand in much of what was going on in his shop. Little took place within his organization he did not know about.

Stewart Haas Racing has a general manager and numerous other people handling a myriad of jobs today that Kulwicki did not have to concern himself with 17 years ago.

Even though he was on his way to the Bristol track from a sponsor related appearance in Knoxville the night he was killed, Kulwicki did not have the type of personality to relish that sort of thing. One has to wonder if in the personality driven climate of NASCAR today whether Kulwicki could have even survived as an owner/driver, much less thrived.

This comparison has not been made to diminish anything Tony Stewart has been able to do this season. His talents and accomplishments have allowed him to get to the position he now finds himself in. And, he was smart enough to align himself with the most successful organization in racing if not all of professional sports in Hendrick Motorsports. He deserves plenty of credit for that.

He has pulled off one of the more shrewd business deals in quite some time and is reaping the benefits of that now. Combined with his driving talents he has been able to lead his team to elite status in a short period of time.

In my opinion there are only two people in the Sprint Cup garage who could have announced last summer that they were leaving a successful team to join one with the issues mentioned above and be first in points by this time. The other would have been Jeff Gordon.

The real purpose of this piece was to show just how much NASCAR has changed in the past 17 years. What Alan Kulwicki was able to do in 1992 as an actual hands-on owner will never be done again.

Tony Stewart may well win the Sprint Cup title in 2009, but he is no Alan Kulwicki. Unfortunately, there will never be another Alan Kulwicki.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

13 Responses to “Tony Stewart is no Alan Kulwicki”

  1. rob Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 7:51 am

    what about if Robby Gordon wins at a road coarse?

  2. Charles Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Richard you are correct! Alan did it on his own with little help from other teams!

    I think this Tony Stewart deal is little more than a ’silent Rick Hendrick Deal !

    Hendrick has more involvement in this team, than just building engines! He brought in members from his own team to help with this! Darrell Waltrip said when it was first announced that all Tony had to do get in he has a already made team with Hendrick resources!

    Look Tony is a great talent, with the 4 car limit coming up this will create more of this type of arraignments!

    Roush Yates is the same!, Plus isnt the Jimmy Johnson car listed as Jeff Gordons?

    Anyway Alan Kulicki was a one of a kind talent that Nascar needs more of!

  3. Overa88ted Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 8:26 am

    There’s no comparing Alan’s team to Tony’s, totally different situation. Alan built his team over years with alot of sweat and his own $. Tony got his team FREE, along with alot of Hendrick and Chevy support. It’s like a comparing JJ’s 3 straight championships to Cale’s, WHAT A JOKE! Cale earned his titles from ALL THE RACES EACH YEAR, not by RE-SETTING points and getting lucky in 10 races each year. Without the tricked-up “FARCE FOR THE CHUMPIONSHIP” JJ would only have 1 title. Competition IS alot closer now days, but comparing both situations is a joke. BTW, I happen to like both JJ and Tony.

  4. Tim Jaeger Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Very well said, Rich. I live near where Alan grew up, watched his career develop, and cheered him on in NASCAR. Your points are right on, I have my doubts about whether Tony could do what Alan did, but I’m also not sure Alan could do what Tony is doing in NASCAR today. Alan was a tough guy to get along with, and when someone like Ray Evernham quits your team (which he did with Alan), that says something. But.. Alan and Tony are both credits to the sport, and deserve the accolades.

  5. midasmicah Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Sadly Rich there is no place in the current nas$car landscape for a driver/owner like Kulwiski. While I applaud Stewart’s business accumen in smartly taking advantage of a great opportunity, Stewart-Haas is basicly a satelite team of Hendrick’s Racing. Kulwicki’s team was his own. He built it from the ground up.

  6. Mick Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I knew AK since he was 4 years old. AK risked everything he owned for his education and his racing team. How much has TS mortgaged or otherwise risked financially for the SH operation? From what I can see this is a Hendrick Sat team funded by Hass. Nevertheless, it a very good performing team.

  7. dbarnes Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Hendrick supplies S-H with the same equipment he supplied Hass with last year. The difference is Stewart and Co. and about 35 positionsin the points.

  8. Charles Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    In repsonse to Tim Jaeger!

    After watching Tony Stewart and Alan Kulwicki!

    I had much rather work with Alan than Tony!

    Remember him and the reporter hit at Indy years ago!
    Hitting Kenny IRWIN!
    Robby Gordon and him fighting!
    Wrecking and talking about teamate Denny Hamlin at Daytona!
    Gripping about Goodyear Tire!

    Tony is a great talent, and I admire his charity work!
    But when hit comes to being hard to work with, I bet Joe Gibbs is glad he is not there, wins or no wins!

  9. mike Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    kulwicki; not even close to the legendary stats stewart will leave in nasscar. tony stewart is flat out the best driver in nasscar’ and all you non beleavers will find out. he is not done winning champoionships

  10. Racehorse Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 5:21 pm


    Joe and JD Gibbs would give their eye teeth to have Tony back in their stable. Logano, good racer that he is, ain’t got the horsepower and right stuff to work with Zippy.

    At least 90 per cent of NASCAR and fans didn’t give Smoke a chance for a win in this first year — much less leading the points and having the Rocket Man in a solid fifth position.

    Pay attention, Charles. Recognize a champion for what he is.

  11. dawg Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Well said!

  12. dawg Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Rich, when you moderate my comment. Please amment it to Well Said Rich. (I don’t want anyone thinking I’m agreeing with Mike’s comment.
    Thanks, dawg

  13. JT Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Agree, Tony’s deal is not really comparable to the (Late-Great) AK’s. AK was my all-time favorite driver/team owner/team engineer, etc., but those were simpler, much cheaper times.

    But remember, in AK’s day, he fielded a championship team with a budget of less that $3M a season. Tony came in the same year that Roush signed Aflac for a cool, $26M a season to sponsor Edwards’ team. Even given the 16-17 year gap, a $23M differential is a big nut and Tony has found a way to work the sponsorship game out. Carl Haas (bless him and curse the IRS) did his best, but without a true star like Tony, there was no way he could hook up the sponsorship his teams are now enjoying.

    Tony Stewart is a (AK-like) man of our times.