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.

What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 (she will start seventh in her No. 13 Dallara-Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing), Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.