Gene Haas Hires Kurt Busch On His OwnBy Nick DeGroot
Earlier today, Stewart-Haas Racing held a press conference to officially announce the signing of Kurt Busch. The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will pilot the Haas Automation Chevrolet as the 4th car in the 2014 Stewart-Haas Racing fleet. Today, we learned that Gene Haas pursued Kurt without talking to his business partner Tony Stewart about it. We also learned that Stewart-Haas Racing needs to build an extension to their building in order to facilitate Kurt’s cars and that Kevin Harvick still wants to beat up the brother of his future teammate. Yeah…it’s been an interesting day to say the least.
Here are some important quotes from today’s press conference…
“Tony broke his leg. I didn’t have really a chance to talk to Tony about it at all since he wasn’t really talking to anybody. So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tich there. I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with. I’ve been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was, he was a little upset.”
“I kind of like his (Kurt) attitude. He’s passionate about what he does. He likes to win. He’s not afraid to get in people’s faces. I think that kind of reflects my company a little bit.”
“It really all started at the General Motors dinner in Indianapolis. I talked to Kurt, found out that he really didn’t have a firm contract with his current team.”
“(Tony said) You need to wait a while. I kind of made an offer to Kurt here, I don’t know if he’s going to take it or not, and if he takes it, I’m not backing down. That’s where we were.”
“Your third question was why not Ryan? You know, Ryan has been an excellent driver. He’s been with us going on five years now. I think he’s done a great job driving the car…..The question is, at some point I am now going to be the sponsor. I just simply wanted a change and an opportunity to do something different. I don’t think this says anything negative about Ryan…..I just feel that I want to take hold of an opportunity that was presented to me. It gives me a chance to, you know, be a sponsor and direct things the way I wanted to direct them.”
(Asked what if Tony put his foot down & said no to 4th car) “I never crossed that bridge. You know, I don’t know. Tony kind of does his own thing, I kind of do my own thing. I have to admit we kind of think alike. Like I say, I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did. But I think he saw it my way, you know (laughter). Either that or get out of the building. Anyway, he has a lot of power. I have to admit, you know, I have some power, too. I think in a sense it’s a check-and-balance system where the two powers balance each other out.”
“I take gambles, I made a decision, and I think I’m going to be proven right. I think we’re going to win a lot more races than anybody ever thought possible.”
“With Kurt Busch, I saw an opportunity. Even though Tony was incapacitated, I couldn’t really talk to him about it, I just decided it was something that was too good to pass up.”
“Tony was very much in favor of the fourth team. What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year. Just so you don’t read anything more into it.”
“We haven’t come to a decision on a car number. It’s obviously Gene’s team and Tony Stewart is the car owner. They’ve given me some nice input on what they’d like. They’ve actually been open to what I would like….my eight-year-old Houston says, Put 360 on the door. (I ask) why 360? Because you’ve come full circle.”
“You know, it’s easy as a 25-year-old to say you know everything, that you can do everything by yourself. That’s what I thought that I could do when I moved from Roush Racing to Penske back in 2006, to bring Roger his first championship. I thought I could wear all the weight on my back. That was not the case…The Penske thing, the image, all of that, it wasn’t your own identity, you were trying to be something else.”
“You got to let the rough edges drag sometimes. When you have a guy like Gene Haas that wants to make you part of a four-car, super-power team calling, you have the ability to be yourself, to work with guys that have those same edgy attitudes as yourself, that’s the journey I’ve been on over the last 18 months.”
“We still have the present that’s right in front of us. The next two weeks are the most important weeks of the 78 car’s career. If we find ourselves racing somebody heads up going into Richmond, that’s what I want to be there for, to deliver them into the Chase, and at the same time it’s the goal achieved of being in that position. When points can reset, we’ll only be five points away from the championship lead. There’s no sense in giving up then. We’ll keep plugging away and pushing. Time is now with the 78 car.”
“It’s been a great journey. When I first started out, I was an undiscovered punk out on the West Coast. Jack Roush put me in his truck. I didn’t know where the brake pedal was apparently because I ran into everything. We had a start to the truck season that was unreal.”
(Asked about 2014 Indy 500 Aspirations) “It’s something that’s still on the table. There’s certain timelines that I’ve agreed to with Michael Andretti if we’re still going to do the deal. We’re working on things. I mention that to Tony when we got together. He said, Man, if you’re going to run Fontana this year, I’m rolling with you and I’m going to be there with you. There’s still the concern of running extracurricular races. But right now the focus is obviously on these next two weeks and getting the 78 car in the Chase. We’ll see what opportunities lie ahead. Everything has to be the right situation for it to happen.”
(Asked about how having four fiery drivers is going to work) “We built a rubber room upstairs, that’s the first thing we did. (laughs) When you have four passionate drivers, I would much rather deal with that than to try to figure out how to get them going. You’re born with that. The competitiveness that these guys have, that’s what you need in this sport. We’ll deal with what comes our way on a weekly basis and we’ll continue to race. It’s as simple as that. I think what makes this unique is there’s three guys and Danica that all had their days. I think they can all help each other. At least that’s the theory I’m going with.”
“Anytime you expand, there’s difficulties. We expanded last year. We kind of sat back and looked at some of the things that we went through last year, how we can prevent some of them. We can start building cars today, which we couldn’t do last year because of the body change. We can start putting people in here to go to work in the fab shop to take some of that load today, which we couldn’t do last year. We were behind on getting plates in here, things of that nature. As far as that goes, I think we’re in much better shape than we were a year ago for many reasons”
To summarize, we now know that Kurt Busch will definitely drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and that Haas Automation will be the sponsor. We also know that Gene Haas pursued Kurt without consulting Tony which upset Tony at first but he got over it. SHR will have to expand the building so they can facilitate four cars and Gene seems to be incredibly confident in Kurt’s ability to take the team to levels of success they have yet to experience. It’s a very interesting and intriguing deal that is unique in the way it went down.
SHR will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in 2014 but don’t be surprised if they stumble over themselves at the start of the season much like they did this year. It’s always a difficult transition when a team expands their operation and SHR certainly isn’t immune to that. The biggest questions left to be answered are what will the number be, who will be the crew chief and will Kurt Busch still take that Indy 500 offer from Andretti?
I believe that in the long run, this was a good move for Stewart-Haas but I don’t know if it was for Kurt. He and Furniture Row seemed to be getting to the point of almost breaking out and winning multiple races. They were gelling really well despite their less than stellar pit stops which seem to be their Achilles Heel in 2013. He is their No.1 driver obviously and all the focus is on him and him alone. Although he will be No.1 in Gene’s mind, he won’t truly be the No.1 driver at SHR; that will always be Tony. Kurt and FRR could have reached some incredible heights together but this decision to leave certainly wasn’t a bad one. He’s basically joining Hendrick Motorsports Jr.
The biggest unknown in all this is will these four fiery personalities be able to work with one another with no issues? Less than six months ago, Tony Stewart was running Kurt Busch into the wall at Richmond on the cool down lap after Busch laid the bumper to his future boss in the closing laps. Kurt’s future teammate, Kevin Harvick acknowledged on Twitter today that he still wants to knock Kyle Busch’s teeth out and those are his words. Will it be smooth sailing? I doubt it. Will they work out whatever disagreements they have and be fine in the end? Most likely. Something Kurt doesn’t have to worry about next year is pleasing sponsors with a crystal clean personality which has been a challenge for him in the past. Haas actually stated that he loves that Kurt isn’t afraid to get fired up and let the rough side drag so maybe this is the perfect scenario for Kurt. He’ll have an owner that wants him to wear his emotions on his sleeve and no sponsor that wants a squeaky clean representative as their driver.
I personally can’t wait to watch SHR in 2014. Gene Haas has asserted himself as a legitimate authority in the team; the program has been bolstered tremendously with the addition of a Sprint Cup champion and a Daytona 500 winner so don’t be surprised if Stewart-Haas cars make up 25% of the chase in 2014.