COMMENTARY | Tony Stewart temporarily lost his leadership role in the company he has led for five years when Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) co-owner Gene Haas failed to consult the injured driver before deciding to hire Kurt Busch and start a fourth team.
Stewart said in an early-September press conference, however, that he is healing and ready to help lead the team as it expands.
Haas, founder of Haas Automation, a leading builder of CNC machine tools, could learn a lot about running a NASCAR operation from Stewart. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is in his 15th year at NASCAR's highest level and understands that adding a NASCAR driver requires careful planning and perfect timing.
Although lacking a business degree, Stewart is an astute businessman who hires smart people to advise him and usually takes their advice when running his multiple business entities. He also knows racing from the driver, team owner and track owner sides.
Until Stewart suffered a broken leg in a sprint car accident in early August, Haas stayed largely in the background, providing funding and letting Stewart and his SHR management team handle much of the decision making. That combination worked well and resulted in a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship for the team.
Adding Kurt Busch Is a Good Decision for SHR
Adding Busch is a good move for both driver and team, but the timing will create challenges. The 2004 NASCAR champion's driving talent is obvious and he should thrive at SHR.
When Haas decided in August to expand SHR to include a fourth team, a move Stewart felt was best postponed for at least a year, Haas did not talk with his co-owner regarding the length of time it takes to get a new team up and running competitively.
SHR had just gone through those growing pains after Danica Patrick started driving a full schedule for the team in 2013. Stewart, Patrick and Ryan Newman all struggled at the beginning of the year.
Unlike a product that is sent to market when it is ready, starting a NASCAR team requires hiring crew members, expanding the facility, building more cars and making sure the dynamics work with other drivers within the organization.
"You know, when Gene came to me about the fourth team," Stewart said during the early-September press conference at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop, "he told me on a Monday, and then on Thursday I was told that they had a contract ready. So it definitely moved a lot faster, but in that time frame there were a lot of meetings in three days. And the biggest thing was having Greg Zipadelli (SHR competition director) sit there and say we can do this and we can get it done in a time frame. That was my concern. It wasn't that I was against the idea of what Gene had in mind."
The other factor Haas did not consider was the effect this announcement would have on Newman, who is the team's only hope for making the 2013 Chase field. Stewart told Newman in August that the team was not in a position to expand to four teams and that he would not be returning in 2014.
Kevin Harvick Will Add to Strong Driver Lineup at SHR
Kevin Harvick, who will leave Richard Childress racing to join SHR in 2014, will help make SHR a power player in NASCAR in 2014 with three drivers who might just battle each other for the championship. Patrick is sure to improve with help from this strong trio of drivers as she begins her second full year in the series.
Dealing with these four strong personalities might be more difficult than adding space to the SHR shop to get Busch's car ready for January testing.
Patrick's first full year in the Sprint Cup series has resulted in lots of media attention with moderate success, but look for SHR to have four competitive cars in 2014. Under Stewart's leadership, the race shop will be filled with interesting stories and successful drivers.
Rosalie Thompson reports on NASCAR for various media outlets. In addition to covering races, she has reported from the preseason NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, NASCAR Media Day in Daytona and the postseason NASCAR Champions Week in Las Vegas.
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