Thomas Bowles · Wednesday August 28, 2013
20 months ago, Kurt Busch wasn’t even sure if he’d have a ride for the Daytona 500. Released by Roger Penske, shamed in public, and dealing with anger management issues even returning to NASCAR, let alone a top-tier Sprint Cup ride was in question.
Now, the only question left for Busch is how he’ll handle being back on top of NASCAR’s equipment hierarchy. The 35-year-old was named Tuesday as the newest addition to the Stewart-Haas Racing team for 2014, signing a multi-year deal to drive a fourth, as-yet-unnumbered car with Haas Automation backing the effort. The organization that produced 2011 Sprint Cup Series champ Tony Stewart, SHR gets chassis and engines from powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, putting Busch in a position to once again have the best of the best.
“My eight-year-old Houston says, Put 360 on the door,” joked Busch in a Tuesday presser announcing the move. “Why 360? Because you’ve come full circle.”
Busch will join Danica Patrick, newcomer Kevin Harvick, and Stewart in the revamped organization that will be challenged to handle expansion at such a late date. The deal came together quickly, explained SHR co-owner Gene Haas and was notable not just for its speed but the way in which his business partner was left in the dark.
“We all know Tony’s problems he was having, so I couldn’t talk to him too much,” Haas admitted, citing the driver’s broken leg – an injury that will keep him out of the driver’s seat through November – as the cause. “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.’ [Well, I said] 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. That’s where we were.”
“I was like, are you kidding me?” Competition Director Greg Zipadelli added when first hit with the news. “But it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for a race team to have a caliber of a driver like this. It’s [just] a little overwhelming when you’re first hit with it.”
The move came as a change of course for SHR, who just last month released Ryan Newman on the pretext they wouldn’t expand from three cars to four. However, Haas claimed that move was sponsorship based, leaving an opening for expansion if he stepped up and chose to back a fourth car himself with Haas Automation.
“I just simply wanted a change and an opportunity to do something different,” the co-owner explained. “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.”
All sides claimed Stewart, who is good friends with Newman and the team are now internally on board with the decision; the driver, still recovering from his leg injury was unable to comment. As for Busch, he’ll move over from Furniture Row Racing next season after taking that team to unprecedented heights in its nine-year existence running the Cup Series. Currently 12th in points, he’s six points out of making the Chase and has collected six top-5 finishes. That’s double what FRR had accumulated in 199 starts, with multiple drivers before this season.
“[Owner] Barney Visser has done a tremendous job at making us a player, something that competes with the big dogs,” Busch explained. “It’s been a tremendous effort this year by a lot of people. 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. So that’s why I feel like I’m in a better place mentally and spiritually as well.”
“Barney is a guy that believes, and a lot of things happen for reasons. He’s given me a tremendous amount to go out there and race against the big dogs. We still have 12 more weeks to do it.”
A crew chief for the new SHR effort will be announced at a later date. Haas did confirm, through his comments the majority of sponsorship appears to be in place for Stewart, Patrick, and Harvick’s new No. 4 car next season, leaving the opening for his company to sponsor another team full-time. That will pair Busch with a company that won’t be overly focused on his off-track behavior, mistakes in younger years that cost him rides with both Roush Racing and Roger Penske.
“With the different transitions through life, coming from young 20s into the later 20s, now being 35, I find myself in a great position with stability in the sport,” Busch said. “Knowing what I’ve done wrong, knowing what I’ve done right, then having a guy like Gene Haas believing in you and wanting to reach new heights with his team.”
FRR’s plans for 2014 remain unclear at this point.
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