- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Over the closing weeks of last season, Steve Addington had been led to believe he would be Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2012.

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 crew chief 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, and fans couldn’t understand why Stewart would make such wholesale changes. 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.”

Then Stewart continued, explaining he’s known Addington for years _ both were at Joe Gibbs Racing together _ and their 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.”

But Addington knows that if Stewart doesn’t successfully defend his title, the finger likely will be pointed at him. He has never won a title at a NASCAR’s national level, despite taking Kyle Busch as the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

He believes he and Stewart can do it.

“I know a lot of people are going to look at it like, `You’re the only thing that’s changed on that race team.’ That’s true,” Addington said. “I feel good about it. I’m confident enough in my position and experience in races to give him what he needs in a race car.”

The competition will be tight this year, especially at JGR, where Grubb has landed.

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