The Frontstretch: Smoke Haas Risen, Kurt Busch's Rebirth, and Truex's Trials by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday August 29, 2013

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Smoke Haas Risen, Kurt Busch's Rebirth, and Truex's Trials

Vito Pugliese · Thursday August 29, 2013

 

Amid the Stewart-Haas Racing revelation that Kurt Busch will be joining the fray next year, one voice has been conspicuously silent – and invisible. Tony Stewart was last seen being loaded onto a stretcher and into an ambulance to tend to his broken leg. But since then, Stewart has not made any appearances or interviews. Which leaves many wondering: why? I remember Ernie Irvan and Geoff Bodine speaking from their hospital beds after coming perilously close to punching out permanently, while Stewart has been silent – perhaps for the first time ever – for over three weeks now.

The #SmokeWillRise thing is cool and a nice gesture, but why the reclusiveness? Come on bro; it’s a broken leg, not polio.

Speak on it Tony, your fans, followers, and everybody would like to hear from you, even if you don’t want to talk about sprint car racing or new buildings popping up at the shop. Perhaps this is all an elaborate set up for his comeback; a new, improved Stewart, in shape, yoked up, and ready to go for Daytona in February. I just hope he doesn’t use this as an excuse to completely go off the grid, and come back looking like Ron Burgundy after he got fired for issuing his unsavory sign-off to San Diego. Stay Classy, Smoke.

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Which brings us to the 400lbs gorilla in the room. We know the story as told to the media; Gene Haas went over Stewart’s head and elevated leg to sign Kurt Busch, after Ryan Newman got the booth, and no fourth team was a possibility at SHR. Part of it I’m buying, some of it – a bit skeptical. Okay, he’s the “money guy”, but does he really make decisions in a vacuum? I don’t know about you, but the only time I’ve heard his name come up in the last five years is either to the right of a hyphen next to Stewart, or related to his two-year prison sentence for tax fraud.

Bottom line, he’s built a very successful business and not by accident. I believe the driver decision came down to a cost and investment equation, equaling performance and potential. Let’s look at the facts:

Kurt has a championship (2004), more wins (24 to Newman’s 17), and wasn’t exactly driving the most competitive car the past year and a half.

Since 2005, Newman has never won more than one race in a year, and went winless in 2006, 2007, and 2009. He won the Daytona 500 in 2008 on a two-lap restart, by way of a big push from Kurt Busch. Wins in 2010 and 2012 were courtesy of extra-lap green white checker finishes, while Indy and Loudon in 2011 were legit drubbings en route to victory. Since 2006, Newman has finished 10th or better twice –tenth in 2011 (when teammate Stewart won 5 out of 10 races and the Sprint Cup) and 9th in 2009.

Kurt Busch…well what can you say? If anything, he will get you some air time and is entertaining to say the least. Win wise, he has yet to win this year or last, but won a pair of races from 2009-2011, and was essentially the only Dodge team in the field in 2010-11. He’s posted Chase finishes of tenth, fourth, and seventh, two 11th place results in 2010 and 2011, since 2005. Last year in the No. 51 he nearly won Sonoma with the rearend housing sliding side to side several inches in every turn after he clipped the tires in Turn 10 – bolted down for the first time at the track. This season he’s gone Greg Jennings in Madden, and put the team on his back, dough — bringing what was a fledgling far-flung team into championship contention.

Yeah I know, he’s had a bit of a reputation for being a blow hard the past few years but think how many great moments we would have been deprived of? So he’s cussed out a few people and it got caught on camera; it’s not like he punched a baby or something. Come to think of it, he really hasn’t done anything Tony Stewart hasn’t done besides carpet F-bomb the radiowaves.

Is Busch a better fit than Newman? You’ll never hear anybody accuse him of laying down or not trying, or getting comfortable with things. He’s been with three organizations in three years, and can provide another perspective to SHR than maybe Newman could not. Busch, Harvick , and Stewart all have similar qualities and characteristics – quick tempers, quick wit, and something to prove in their respective rides.

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Things at MWR were looking up a few weeks ago, now I’m not so sure. Mark Martin leaves to go sub for Tony Stewart, allowing Brian Vickers to take over the ride he’ll assume in 2014. No problems there. Then crew chief Rodney Childers announces he’s leaving, while Martin Truex, Jr. breaks his wrist and his Chase contention got put on notice. Clint Bowyer did clinch a Chase birth (taking a shot in the door in the process), while Vickers was able to earn his fourth Top 10 in 10 starts, with a fourth place finish. Was it just Bristol, or a harbinger of things to come?

This Sunday night’s 500-miler in Atlanta will be pivotal for this team. Toyota continues to work its way back to maximum horsepower without coming apart as they were earlier in the year, while Truex will need to make sure Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon don’t win a race – or that Joey Logano and his Michigan win fall from tenth.

No pressure.

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Carl D.
08/29/2013 10:59 AM
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Now is probably a good time for Tony Stewart to lay low. No one wants to see him with the egg all over his face put there by Gene Haas. It’s Haas’ money; he can spend on whatever he likes, and I think Kurt Busch will get better results at SHR than Ryan Newman did, but the sneaky way Haas went about it leaves Stewart looking like an even bigger jerk than he is.

JP
08/29/2013 12:20 PM
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Haas made a smart business decision based on the World Of Nascar.

I’d go the Hendrick/Chevy/Nascar route too if I were a Nascar team owner. It’s the best way to victory lane and sponsorship money. (…and less penalties from inspections,etc.)

Newman is boring. Kurt is anything but. Even if Kurt blows his top and wrecks lots of cars, he’ll get air time. And is fun to watch.

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