NASCAR Cup Series
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Gene Haas made it abundantly clear on Tuesday afternoon that he wasn’t the silent half of the banner at Stewart-Haas Racing when he officially announced that Kurt Busch would join his team starting next season.
All signs pointed to Haas being the sole individual at the team who pursued signing Busch to a contract and the press conference confirmed it. Busch will drive a Haas Automation Chevrolet for “multiple seasons” giving Haas his first real shot to get to victory lane with his homegrown machine tool organization on the hood.
While it took Tony Stewart a week to ultimately agree to a deal with Busch, Haas said that he was not going to back down on his decision and even offered Busch a deal without consulting his three-time championship winning partner.
Either Tuesday’s press conference was a well-crafted ruse designed to generate maximum publicity for the partnership or there is a difference of opinion developing at Stewart-Haas Racing.
The team announced in June, after signing Kevin Harvick to a multiyear deal that Ryan Newman would not be back next season because Stewart-Haas would be unable to expand to four cars.
“I truly wish we were able to facilitate four teams at this time,” Stewart told Fox Sports. “We’re just not able to do that. Down the road, I’m sure if that becomes a possibility, he will definitely be on the list to fill the fourth seat again.”
Haas maintained on Tuesday that Stewart’s statement was true at the time but that learning of Busch’s availability presented an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“I think we all see how Kurt has done on the racetrack,” Haas said. “He’s done an amazing job with the 78 car, taking a car that is a single-car team, has a lot of competitors that are way ahead of it. They’ve done a remarkable job of being able to compete in that top‑10 bracket.”
Beyond that, Busch’s resume speaks for itself.
Over a span of 14 seasons, Busch has amassed 24 victories at the Sprint Cup level and won the inaugural Chase for the Championship in 2004 when he drove for Roush Racing.
His talent as a pure wheelman has been recognized across several different disciplines including the NHRA and IndyCar and it appears that Haas was willing to make room for someone of that caliber at his organization — and do it before someone beat him to the punch.
Long-time Stewart colleague and current SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli says that Tony’s hesitation wasn’t so much about Busch but rather the team’s expected challenge to expand to four cars at this juncture.
“Tony was very much in favor of the fourth team,” Zippadelli said. “What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year.”
With the decision made, the team has now unveiled plans to expand to two buildings with four cars split between them, a model that has provided Hendrick Motorsports success in recent years.
But Haas’ aggression in signing Busch is still fascinating. It almost felt as if Haas went rogue to field a car for “The Outlaw.” He said that Busch “likes to win and get in people’s faces,” a lot like his company. But isn’t that the same logic James Finch employed in deciding to hire Busch prior to the 2011 season?
That ill-fated relationship ended at the Sprint Cup level with a smiley face decorated No. 51 car as soon as Busch departed from the team at Charlotte.
But Busch appears less abrasive now than he did a year ago and that’s likely what Haas is banking his decision on. His personality has even come across as jocular and even silly at times towards his crew and the media.
The positive vibes have even powered Busch’s return to form as he’s back in championship contention for the first time since 2011 — the Busch that Haas hopes to have acquired at Stewart-Haas Racing.
But if he gets the volatile, moody Busch and this if this deal goes south, what will it mean for team chemistry with teammates Stewart, Harvick and Danica Patrick? And more importantly, what will it mean for his suddenly tested partnership with Stewart?
A lot hinges on Busch’s coming tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing and history suggests either greatness or controversy.
But what will this tandem inspire?