Eight days ago, Stewart-Haas Racing founder and co-owner Gene Haas sat on stage at the team’s shop in Kannapolis, N.C., and told reporters that the hiring of Kurt Busch and expanding to four cars next year was his idea and his alone, coming over the objections of his partner, Tony Stewart.
“I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did,” Haas said of the signing of Busch. Then, laughing, he added, “But I think he saw it my way, you know. Either that or get out of the building.”
On Tuesday at SHR, Stewart himself painted a very different picture.
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion insisted he and Haas are, in fact, on the same page with regard to Busch and a fourth team. Or at least they are now that Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director and one of Stewart’s most-trusted lieutenants, has told Stewart the expansion is doable.
“When he (Haas) asked me about it, I wanted to make sure that we had the time — the timing is very tight, and we’re going to have to get a lot done in a short amount of time to accomplish this,” Stewart said Tuesday, on the same stage Haas had occupied exactly one week earlier. “But I think it was really Greg saying we can do this and we can get this done in the time frame, and it may not be fun and it may not be easy, but we can do it. That was what made me finally give my 100 percent blessing on it.”
And Stewart acknowledged a point his partner had made a week earlier — Haas is used to working solo and calling the shots in most everything he does.
“Gene is not used to having partners,” Stewart said. “Gene is a self made success story in the CNC industry, and he’s pretty much been a one man show doing it, and this is the first time that he’s really had a partner. I think going through that process, I don’t think that he thought much — he just didn’t think about talking to me about it until it got further along.”
There is no rift between Stewart and Haas, Stewart insisted.
“It was his (Haas’) choice to add Kurt to the organization, not me,” said Stewart. “I really truly was 100 percent behind it; I was just concerned about the timeframe. The rest of it about everybody’s perception that we’re fighting and arguing, there was never one argument between us. I just expressed my concern about the timing of it, and it was no more elevated than the conversation you and I are having right here. It was literally trying to figure out the facts of can we feasibly do this in the time frame that we have and can we do it to the level that we want to accomplish in that short amount of time.”
Stewart admitted that he didn’t know whether he could have actually vetoed the signing of Busch if he wanted to, but said the whole process has been a learning experience for both he and Haas.
“We’ve never, ever had to think about anything for the last five years I’ve ran Stewart Haas Racing,” said Stewart. “I definitely welcomed Gene being engaged like this, and I am excited he wants to be a part of it. You know, I think Gene realizes the value of the group that we have here now, and especially since his media session last Tuesday.”
And if they both could do it all over again?
“I think we would talk about it a lot more,” said Stewart. “He’s definitely the guy that writes the checks, and if he decides he wants to do something, I’m pretty sure with the fact that he holds the checkbook that he gets kind of the final say of it. But I think he values our opinions now and understands why I was asking questions and cautious about the time frame of it. So I think he respects that a lot more since last week.”