Four thoughts on Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas’ expansion

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Today, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ latest super-team was formed.

2004 Cup champion and Furniture Row Racing driver Kurt Busch was officially announced this afternoon as the fourth driver in next year’s lineup for Stewart-Haas Racing, which will boast a very intriguing roster with Busch, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick (coming in from Richard Childress Racing), and Danica Patrick.

Whether it will all work out remains to be seen. But for now, here are a few takeaways from today’s press conference in North Carolina:

1) Kurt Busch can thank SHR co-owner Gene Haas for this.

While Stewart was in the early days of recovery after breaking his right leg in a sprint car accident, Haas (pictured, right) went out on his own to pursue Busch – even though his fellow co-owner had said at New Hampshire that his team wasn’t capable of expanding to a fourth car, hence the release of Ryan Newman at season’s end.

According to SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli, Stewart wasn’t against expansion but was against trying to get it done for 2014. But Haas wanted to take the risk; he’ll fund Busch’s program out of his pocket and have his own Haas Automation company serve as Busch’s primary sponsor.

Eventually, Stewart gave Haas the green light.

“I think, you know, initially since it wasn’t Tony’s idea, he was taken aback a little bit by it,” Haas said. “But I think he saw it wasn’t a bad idea. In retrospect, it looks like it’s going to be a great idea. If we don’t win any races next year, hey, I’m going to look like an idiot.

“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.”

2) SHR is confident everyone will get along.

“The Outlaw,” “Smoke,” “Happy,” and Danica – all under one roof and all having proven, emphatically at times, that they can be quite passionate about what they do.

Zipadelli joked that the team had “built a rubber room upstairs” to prepare for the potentially combustible mix of personalities, but also said that having four drivers with plenty of fire was better than trying to figure out how to motivate them.

“We’ll deal with what comes our way on a weekly basis and we’ll continue to race,” he said. “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.”

3) Busch is older, but also seems to be wiser.

After he and Penske Racing split following the end of the 2011 season, Busch went into the wilderness, so to speak. He joined up with Phoenix Racing in 2012, but then went to Furniture Row Racing for this season – teams that don’t have as much resources to work with.

Nonetheless, Busch has given FRR the chance to earn a Chase berth with two regular season races remaining before the post-season run. And it’s clear that being part of the single-car team has given something to Busch, too.

“It’s taught me a lot about myself on how to understand disappointment better, and it’s also taught me a lot about how to help with crew members when they stumble or they trip on something, to be there for them,” he said. “So that’s why I feel like I’m in a better place mentally and spiritually as well.”

4) The Indy 500 is still on the table.

Busch, who tested an Andretti Autosport IndyCar this past May at Indianapolis, is still hoping to make a run at the Indianapolis 500 in the future, and he says that hasn’t changed despite his soon-to-be new surroundings.

“There’s certain timelines that I’ve agreed to with [IndyCar team owner] Michael Andretti if we’re still going to do the deal,” said Busch. “We’re working on things.

“I mentioned that to Tony when we got together. He said, ‘Man, if you’re going to run [the IndyCar season finale at] Fontana this year, I’m rolling with you and I’m going to be there with you.'”

As you probably know, Stewart ran three seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series (then, the Indy Racing League) before he flipped full-time to stock car racing in 1999.

Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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