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When Opportunity Knocked, SHR Had To Answer

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 27 2013

Stewart-Haas Racing could not wait to add Kurt Busch to its lineup of drivers. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart wanted a fourth team at Stewart-Haas Racing just not in 2014, but team co-owner Gene Haas felt he had to make the move now in order to add Kurt Busch to the organization’s driver roster.

“I’ve talked to Kurt Busch over the years. He’s been kind of a favorite of mine,” Haas said Tuesday during a press conference at team headquarters. “I thought this was a great opportunity to pair him up with Haas Automation, for him to be the driver of my choice. It was an opportunity that I just felt was too great to pass up.

“I know Kurt’s résumé as well as anybody. I kind of like his attitude. He’s passionate about what he does. He likes to win. He’s not afraid to get in people’s faces. I think that kind of reflects my company a little bit. I think there’s a good match there. The fact that he runs into his friends at 200 miles an hour once in a while, has a few tough words with that, they all do that, so I don’t really have any problems with that either.”

A car number for Busch has yet to be determined and a crew chief hired for the deal that was finalized Monday. However, SHR Competition Director Greg Zipadelli said the amount of resumes and phone calls he had received since it became known the organization was adding a fourth team with Busch as the driver had been “unbelievable”. Haas said his company — Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world – would be the sponsor for Busch, who had signed a multi-year contract.

“With the other three cars having their sponsorship pretty much filled up, it was an opportunity for Haas Automation to be a primary sponsor,” the 60-year-old Haas said. “In the past, I’ve always been a co-sponsor on the Stewart-Haas Racing team. This is going to be my shot at being a primary sponsor, going to the Daytona 500, the Brickyard as the primary sponsor. Haas Automation has never been in the winner’s circle, and I’m sure that’s going to change next year.”

Even though Zipadelli said it would be tight for a while in the existing building, work has already begun on SHR’s physical expansion. Land adjacent to the team’s existing 140,000-square-foot facility is being cleared for construction of a building that will house research and development, a state-of-the-art pit fitness and training center, and multi-purpose space for SHR partners.

“When we originally started at this location, we purchased 30-acres of land,” Haas said. “The building layouts were already done. It was part of the previous layout. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch. It will take probably somewhere around six to nine months to get the structure up, but we hope to have it open by June.

“The way we do things around here is a little unique in the sense that we just focus on racing. That’s really our primary things. Things like chassis, engines, obviously come from Hendrick Motorsports. Some of that load will go on them to increase their output.

“It’s going to be challenging mainly from a space standpoint, but I think we can offload some of that to some other locations. We can just focus on the races at hand.”

Discussions between Haas and Busch began at the Chevrolet dinner in Indianapolis the weekend of the NASCAR race at the Brickyard.

“I talked to Kurt, found out that he really didn’t have a firm contract with his current team,” Haas explained. “I was a little surprised at that because we had talked to him the previous year. We were just trying to find out where he stood. When he took the 78 ride, you know, usually it’s for several years. When I was talking to him, he said, ‘No, no, there’s some transitions. They’re going to try to find out what manufacturer they’re going with before they announce the driver.’ That was Indianapolis, only a few weeks ago.

“So I talked to Joe Custer. Joe reached out to Kurt who found out that things were lining up. I wanted to go forward with that. Tony broke his leg. I didn’t have really a chance to talk to Tony about it at all since he wasn’t really talking to anybody. So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tic there. I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with. I’ve been pretty much on my own.”

When Haas informed Stewart of his plans to add a fourth team for 2014 with Busch as the driver, Stewart wasn’t happy. In fact, the injured Stewart, who had told Ryan Newman in July there wouldn’t be a place for him at the organization next year because it wasn’t expanding to four teams, resisted.

“At first he said, ‘Oh, wow, we can’t really do this because this is going to be too much of a load on the team. We’re not prepared for it. We don’t have the space.’” Haas recounted. “He actually is an astute businessman. He thought about all these little things, where are we going to get the people, the money, where are the buildings going to come from. I didn’t think about any of that. From Tony’s standpoint, he’s more of a businessman. I just thought it would be kind of neat to have.

“We all know Tony’s problems he was having, so I couldn’t talk to him too much. When I finally did talk to him, he was saying, ‘Maybe we should wait a little while.’ I think he actually said, ‘You need to wait a while.’ I kind of made an offer to Kurt here, I don’t know if he’s going to take it or not, and if he takes it, I’m not backing down. I stepped up and said I would fund it. It’s very difficult to find a sponsor in less than 24 hours. So we did that, too.

“I think it’s money well spent. I think advertising is a good value for your money and I wasn’t afraid to commit to it, and I could do it quickly.”

Haas noted that when Stewart joined the organization in 2009 he picked Newman as his co-driver. The California businessman, who was serving a prison sentence for tax fraud when he gave Stewart half of what was then CNC Haas Racing in exchange for Stewart’s driving talent and name to help give his struggling organization what it needed to hire a top group of people, made it clear Tuesday that Busch was his selection.

“I am now going to be the sponsor,” Haas continued. “I just simply wanted a change and an opportunity to do something different. I don’t think this says anything negative about Ryan. He’s been a great driver, done a great job. After five years I just feel that I want to take hold of an opportunity that was presented to me. It gives me a chance to, you know, be a sponsor and direct things the way I wanted to direct them.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 27 2013
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