44th Annual Pure Michigan 400 - Practice

It’s official – Kurt Busch to drive for Stewart-Haas next season


Kurt Busch has come full circle. After two years of rehabilitating his reputation while driving for smaller, single-car teams, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will return to being part of a multi-car squad as the fourth member of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.

The official announcement, which also revealed that Busch will carry sponsorship from Haas Automation (the non-racing company of team co-owner Gene Haas), took place earlier today at SHR headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

Next season, he’ll round out a four-car roster that will also feature co-owner Tony Stewart, the also-incoming Kevin Harvick, and Danica Patrick.

“Stewart-Haas Racing has proven itself to be a very competitive race team,” Busch said in a team statement. “Every team wants to win, but the preparation and resources Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone at SHR put into their race cars each and every week is incredible.

“This is the kind of situation every driver wants to be in, and I’m grateful to Gene Haas and Haas Automation for providing me this opportunity. I didn’t think anyone wanted to win as much as me until I met Gene Haas.”

In case you couldn’t tell by the amount of times his name was mentioned by Busch, his jump to SHR is largely Haas’ doing. The machine tools magnate – who has also been a Sprint Cup team owner since late 2002 – called Busch “a premier talent” in his own statement.

“When he became available, we seized the opportunity to make him a part of Stewart-Haas Racing,” Haas said. “This is an organization built on winning, and Haas Automation is a company built on performance. Kurt embodies each of those qualities, and it’s why we’re investing in his abilities.”

Busch’s bid for a Chase berth this season with the single-car Furniture Row Racing has been an impressive one, even though it hit a snag last weekend at Bristol.

While he hasn’t been able to win, he has collected six Top-5 and 14 Top-10 finishes for the Colorado-based franchise, and with two races remaining before the Chase, he’s just six points out of the Top 10 in the Cup standings (which automatically enter the post-season).

Some have already questioned how well he’ll be able to work with Stewart, Harvick and Patrick – all of which, like himself, have shown in the past to be a bit tempestuous at times.

But considering what he’s done with FRR this year, Busch’s ability behind the wheel can’t be overlooked. It’s clearly helped give him this opportunity.

“I’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for Kurt’s talent and determination for as long as he’s been racing in the Sprint Cup Series,” said Stewart, who didn’t attend today’s press conference as he recovers from a broken right leg he sustained in a sprint car crash earlier this month.

“Kurt is extremely knowledgeable, and his input will make all of Stewart-Haas Racing better.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Simon Pagenaud’s first season at Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 5th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 59 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 11th Place, Best Finish 3rd, 1 Pole, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 132 Laps Led, 5.2 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish

The 2015 season was always going to be a weird one for Simon Pagenaud, in his first season with Team Penske, adapting and adjusting to being with what’s widely regarded as one of the best if not the best teams in the sport. From a career standpoint he needed to move on from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where he overachieved for three seasons. And given what became of the Honda aero kit this year, having a Chevrolet at his disposal was always going to be a benefit.

In actuality, Pagenaud didn’t have a bad year, but it was one where the burden of expectation probably hurt his overall stats more than the reality of the situation.

Let’s face facts – he’d finished in the top five in points each of his first three seasons back in IndyCar the last two years, won four races and been in championship contention before. Take all that, apply it to Team Penske and you’d assume wins and title contention would follow, but it didn’t. Still, it was a new team, a fourth team, and that took time to gel.

His qualifying was dynamic, which went against his career form and was markedly improved. His average leapt from 8.6 to 5.2 this year, which was third best in the field. The problem? It trailed two of his three teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and was only one spot clear of Juan Pablo Montoya.

And then – and there is no easy way to put this – there were his finishes. In 12 of 16 races this season, Pagenaud finished worse than he started. For a driver renowned for making the most of his circumstances on race day, often times things went south when all the marbles, all the points were on the line. Some you could put down to strategy or particularly in the later part of the year, sampling different setups to aid his title-contending teammates.

There were highlights, in particular his speed at the three 500-mile races. Pagenaud was probably the quickest of the four Penske entries at Indianapolis, scored the pole in Fontana and also starred in Pocono, but he didn’t have results to back it up in any of the three. Contact at Indy halted what was certainly winning potential. He also scored a pair of thirds at Detroit race one and Mid-Ohio, although those were cases where he was lucky rather than good.

It was hard to view Pagenaud’s season positively on the whole because you know his potential and ability hasn’t gone missing. But finishing 11th in points when your three teammates end second, third and fifth is definitely a tough pill to swallow, and an early motivator to make the fast Frenchman a top comeback driver in 2016.

Nicky Hayden announces World Superbikes move

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Nicky Hayden of USA and Aspar Team MotoGP rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Spain - Free Practice at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 25, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden will leave the series at the end of the season ahead of a move into the World Superbike Championship in 2016, it has been announced.

Hayden has raced in MotoGP since 2003 and is currently the only American rider racing in the series, but has struggled to match the form of his early years, scoring just 13 points in 2015.

It had been rumored that Hayden would be walking away from MotoGP at the end of the season for some time, but this has now been confirmed in a statement from WorldSBK.

Hayden will join Honda’s factory team in the rival series, racing alongside Michael van der Mark. The 34-year-old will bid to become the first rider to win both MotoGP and WorldSBK titles.

“Well, my next stop is Superbike with Honda! I’m very excited, obviously, to stick with Honda; it’s where I’ve had the most success in my career,” Hayden said.

“World Superbikes is a championship that I followed closely as a kid when a lot of American riders were fighting at the front. It just seems like the right time and the right team to go with.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn and it’s going to be a big challenge, but also I’m very motivated to start and learn what I can.

“I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me through my MotoGP career. We had a good run but now it’s time to move on and try something different.”

Hayden’s departure acts as another blow to MotoGP’s profile in the United States, which has seen a downturn in recent years.

The exit of Ben Spies from Yamaha in 2013 was followed by the loss of the race at Laguna Seca the same year, while last month, it was confirmed that Indianapolis would not be returning to the calendar in 2016, leaving just one US round on the schedule.