Tony Stewart threw down some whoppers this year, literally and figuratively. Not only was Stewart involved in the single best promotion of the year – the Burger King lie detector and promotional school campaign – but he also stunned the NASCAR world with his work on the track. As a result, Whopper Man is the No. 8 story of 2009.

What happened?
Stewart left the stability of Joe Gibbs Racing and a Home Depot sponsorship to become a driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing. Before Stewart arrived, Haas was a non-factor, even though it had an engine relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. Many viewed SHR as an expansion team that was going to take its lumps for a few years before making a real impact. Stewart pooped on that premise. He won in his 14th career start as a driver/owner and was first in points before they were reset for the Chase. Stewart ended up with a fourth place finish for the season and his teammate Ryan Newman made the Chase and finished ninth. Keep in mind, no one associated with Haas had ever won a race, let alone sniffed the Chase

Where are we now?
SHR has gone from afterthought to major player. Stewart was linked to a possible deal with Danica Patrick. There are also rumors suggesting SHR will add a third team, possibly with Kevin Harvick. SHR has blended sponsors to ensure long-term success. On a personal note, I can only hope it means more promotional opportunities to use the word "Estrada."

Why should you care?

As a racing fan, you’re probably frustrated with all the stories talking about how financially challenged certain elements of the sport are. A lot of you are sick of Hendrick cleaning everyone’s clock. SHR is the first team to make the leap from mid-major to big-time in the modern conglomerate ear. And while many thought it would eventually happen, to happen this quickly is a sign that talented people with good relationships can win. Some fans might not like Tony Stewart, but 2009 cemented his legacy as one of NASCAR’s kings. And he has access to a cool crown.

Related links:

Top story No. 9: RCR gets loopy
Top story No. 10: The return of Mark Martin
Top story No. 11: Kyle Busch sucks, rocks
Top story No. 12: NASCAR Hall of Fame
Top story No. 13: David Poole’s death
Top story No. 14: Double-file restarts
Top story No. 15: As the Danica turns