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.