With big year coming, Stewart-Haas Racing reorganizes

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As Stewart-Haas Racing prepares to expand to a four-car lineup for next year’s Sprint Cup campaign, the team has announced a series of organizational changes to its competition department – chief among them being the hiring of former Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Chad Johnston to fill the same role for its recuperating driver/co-owner, Tony Stewart.

Johnston completed his tenure at MWR in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Like his driver, Martin Truex Jr., he too was told by MWR that he was free to look for new employment after the team announced it would drop to two full-time cars in 2014 following the loss of sponsor NAPA; Truex is moving on to Furniture Row Racing to drive its No. 78 car.

Stewart and Johnston worked together briefly back in 2004-2005 at Morgan-Dollar Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. At that time, Stewart raced a handful of CWTS events for the team, with Johnston serving as race engineer.

Additionally, Daniel Knost will make his debut as a crew chief next season for Kurt Busch’s No. 41 squad after serving as race engineer for the No. 39 of now-departed Ryan Newman. Before going to the No. 39, Knost – who has been with SHR since 2008 – was race engineer for Danica Patrick in an eight-race stretch during the 2012 season.

Other major notes from SHR’s reorganization:

  • Rodney Childers, who joined SHR last month, will be crew chief for the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick. He most recently was crew chief for the No. 55 MWR team of Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
  • Tony Gibson will remain crew chief for Patrick on the No. 10 car.
  • Greg Zipadelli has been promoted to the role of vice president of competition, where he’ll manage all four Cup squads.
  • Matt Borland has been named vice president of engineering and will oversee the team’s technical side, as well as various research and development projects. A team release also notes that he’ll shift from being an active crew chief “to that of a mentor, specifically in regard to the crew chief position on the No. 41 Haas Automation team of driver Kurt Busch” – namely, Knost.

In a statement, Stewart said that with the changes, the team is set to transform seamlessly into a bigger operation.

“Obviously, there is a lot of change happening for 2014 as we grow to four teams and bring in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch,” he said. “But with our new management structure and the crew chiefs we have in place, we’re well positioned to handle whatever challenges come our way.

“Collectively, we have the experience and wherewithal necessary for each of our teams to perform at the highest level possible.”

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.