Kurt Busch: Stewart-Haas Racing will thrive in ’14 despite four disparate personalities

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As has been seen in many cases over NASCAR history, peaceful coexistence between fierce competitors is nothing short of an oxymoron – if not a total impossibility.

But as Stewart-Haas Racing prepares to kick off the 2014 Sprint Cup season, it has brought together a cast that is fueled by testosterone, machismo and bravado.

And those are the good points.

There’s no question that Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick are close friends, but even close friends have had their run-ins over the years.

Kurt Busch and Harvick and Stewart – especially Busch and Harvick – have also had enough on-track conflicts to last a lifetime. And yet now they’re teammates, expected to bury the hatchet and play nice together.

While some critics may question the viability, it is not unusual in the world of sports. Look back at the glory years of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders from 1976 through 1983, when they won three Super Bowls (1976, 1980 and 1983). Under the late Al Davis, the Raiders put together perhaps the greatest collection of characters, personalities, castoffs and quasi-misfits ever seen in pro sports.

If there ever was a group destined to fail, it was the Raiders. But somehow, Davis made it work. He found a way to turn downright enemies into, well, not exactly BFFs, but a group that realized the collective reward of the team far overshadowed any beefs or individual hatred of teammates — not to mention individual success.

That’s kind of the scenario that will likely play out in 2014 at Stewart-Haas Racing. While past dust-ups will never be forgotten, SHR has put together a veritable murderer’s row of talent that could be the biggest challenge to Jimmie Johnson winning a seventh Cup title, of Hendrick Motorsports remaining the most dominant team in the sport, and also give teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing downright fits.

Busch, in particular, is perhaps the biggest wildcard of all in the SHR lineup. But he’s more than ready to let bygones be bygones with Harvick and Stewart (and Danica Patrick, for that matter), and be part of a stronger collective group than individually.

Busch has already had experience of sorts in situations where critics doubted peaceful coexistence. When he raced part-time for younger brother and team owner Kyle in the Nationwide Series two years ago, speculation was that two brothers – especially alpha drivers like the Busch siblings – would make for the worst kind of teammates.

As it turned out, it was completely the opposite – and actually may have helped Kurt prepare for this season with SHR.

“It reminds me of when Kyle and I got together to run his car in the Nationwide Series,” Kurt Busch told MotorSportsTalk. “There was all the speculation that things were going to blow up and go haywire.

“We actually had a rough season that could have led to problems, but it only brought us closer together to work on the car, to understand what was wrong and why we weren’t as competitive as we needed to be. It was a great challenge to bring us together as brothers and I see that happening as four personalities come together (at SHR).

“This season has so much potential to bring everything that we want to ourselves individually and to a team together. That’s what’s going to make this year special.”

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Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.