One big happy family: Haas & Stewart on same page ahead of 2014 season
CHARLOTTE, NC - JAN 27: Tony Stewart (right), co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, and Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, speak with the media during NASCAR Sprint Media Tour at Charlotte Convention Center on Jan. 27, 2014 in Charlotte, N.C.
Stewart-Haas Racing co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas said Monday they are absolutely on the same page about the new-look SHR squad for 2014.
Last year, SHR was a three-car effort with drivers Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick. But for 2014, Newman is gone, replaced by long-time Stewart buddy Kevin Harvick, with Haas hiring Kurt Busch to run a fourth team car.
Haas signed Busch last August, just days after Stewart suffered a horrifying double compound fracture of his right leg in a sprint car crash in Iowa. Stewart first learned of the Busch signing when he was still hospitalized and did not take the news particularly well, mostly because he didn’t think the team had enough time to expand from three to four cars.
On Monday, though, both the SHR co-owners said they’re in agreement with the 2014 plan.
"I think Tony’s a little more cautious than I am. I like to get things done," Haas said during the first stop along the four-day 2014 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I think, ‘We’re going to wait a year to get something done? Oh, man, who wants to wait a year?’ And Kurt Busch wasn’t going to be around for a year."
Haas said the biggest issue between he and Stewart was timing. Haas first approached Busch shortly before Stewart’s crash and that made it hard to get Stewart involved. Haas had one of his lieutenants call Busch and discovered the driver was, in fact, available. "It seemed like all of a sudden, there was a little bit of water on that plant," said Haas. "And it’s like, it kind of bloomed, and it’s like, ‘Well, this is possible.’
"The following Monday, Tony breaks his leg," said Haas. "He’s not available. He’s not available at all. And it’s like, ‘OK, what are we going to do here?’ … And so, I said, ‘I would be willing to accept the responsibility of putting Kurt in a car.’"
And so Haas did the deal without his partner’s consent.
"It wasn’t like Tony was totally out of the loop," said Haas. "He just wasn’t in the loop. So, I kind of went forward and it just took off. I think Tony was a little surprised because it just kind of hit him and, OK, here’s a guy and his leg was all in pieces and that’s what he was really focusing on. And so all of a sudden this kind of hits him … I don’t know, he probably wasn’t in the greatest of moods at the time."
Haas is funding the fourth car out of his own vast pockets – he is the owner of Haas Automation, which will sponsor’s Busch’s car — so all Stewart had to worry about was making sure the team could accommodate a fourth Cup car this year. Or more specifically, SHR Competition Director Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s long-time right-hand man, had to worry about adding a fourth car and making it work.
"Once we sat down, and sat with Greg Zipadelli and just said, ‘What’s it going to take to do this? What’s the reality? It was more me getting caught up than anything," said Stewart. "The timing of it was bad for me, not necessarily for them."
But as soon as the man known as ‘Zippy’ said the expansion to a fourth car was doable, Stewart was on board. "It was literally saying, ‘Can this happen? Can we make this happen?’" said Stewart. "When Zippy said, ‘Yeah, it may not be fun, but we can make this happen.’ And I think it’s been a lot smoother process than any of us anticipated from day one. I’m really happy."
"In all honesty, knock on wood, it has gone remarkably, remarkably smooth," added Zipadelli. "In a very timely manner, cars are built, the best cars we’ve had."
Zipadelli said his bosses are, in fact, on the same page, as are the new drivers and other additions to the team.
"As far as an organization, as far as the changes we made, the people, drivers – It may all blow up, but it has honestly been fun, it’s been exciting, extremely uplifting, motivating to see the people we were able to get and add to our group."