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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F1 2017 driver review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Carlos Sainz Jr.

Teams: Scuderia Toro Rosso (1-16), Renault (17-20)
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Singapore)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 54
Championship Position: 9th

Carlos Sainz Jr. has always been compared to Max Verstappen given their relative rise and stint together at Toro Rosso, but the Spaniard began to forge his own impressive path through 2017, securing himself a works drive with Renault in the process.

Alongside the struggling Daniil Kvyat for much of the season, Sainz led Toro Rosso’s charge, scoring 48 of its 53 points with a string of impressive drives. His headline moment came in Singapore when he matched Verstappen’s best result in Toro Rosso colors by finishing fourth, capitalizing on the start-line crash and the wet weather with a strong display.

Sainz’s displays led to a call from Renault, who announced just two days before his star display in Singapore he would be joining up for 2018 on loan from Red Bull. However, the deal was accelerated after a deal was brokered to secure Jolyon Palmer’s departure, allowing Sainz to join up from the United States GP onwards.

Sainz made an immediate impression, completing a perfect race en route to seventh on debut for Renault to secure six points that would prove crucial in the final constructors’ championship standings as the French team beat Toro Rosso to P6 in the standings at the last race of the year.

Red Bull retains an option on Sainz’s future beyond 2018, making him a candidate for a seat with its senior team should Daniel Ricciardo opt to leave. Failing that, Renault could offer Sainz the platform he needs to continue his rapid rise in F1 and establish himself at the front of the pack for many years to come.

Season High: Finishing fourth in Singapore after dodging the start-line drama.

Season Low: Crashing out in his final Toro Rosso appearance on the first lap at Suzuka.