NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Two-Headed Monster: Is a Move to Ford the Right Move for Stewart-Haas?

No one saw it coming.

Shocked is the reaction that immediately came to mind as the NASCAR collective woke up on Wednesday morning to news that Stewart-Haas Racing would no longer be fielding Chevrolets, and beginning in 2017, Fords.

What were team co-owners Gene Haas Tony Stewart thinking? Why would he abort a partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, the New York Yankees of auto racing, and with Chevrolet – the manufacturer that has won the previous 13 manufacturers championships? Why would he rock the boat when his teams have won two of the previous five driver titles and 30 races since 2009?

Is a move to Ford the right move for Stewart-Haas Racing?

Stewart-Haas Racing is Making a Terrible Mistake

12 years.

That’s how long it’s been since Ford last won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (then Nextel Cup) championship in 2004.

Remember 2004? The Chase for the Cup was brand new. A young, gangly Kurt Busch out-wheeled the competition – literally, his own wheel forced a championship-saving yellow at Homestead – to take the title for Roush Fenway Racing.

Four teams, three changes to the Chase format, two meltdowns and a brief suspension later, Busch will again look to bring Ford a title, with SHR in 2017.

2016 Daytona I CUP Kurt Busch vertical Matthew T Thacker NKP
Kurt Busch won the last driver’s championship for Ford…back in 2004 (credit: Matthew T Thacker NKP)

If the above comes off as a character assassination of the elder Busch brother, I apologize. It isn’t meant to serve as a criticism. No, it’s meant to show just how long it’s been since Ford was competitive enough to rise above the rest of the field as champions.

In that same time period, Chevrolet has won a whopping nine championships, with Dodge and Toyota each claiming a championship of their own.

Ford, on the other hand, has stalled.

Longtime front-runner RFR has gradually lost speed over the last decade, falling from among the front-runners to mid-pack on a good day, and prompting long-time drivers Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards to jump ship and head to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Attempts to bring in new teams to lead the manufacturer have brought mixed results. Richard Petty Motorsports has found their ceiling to be somewhere in the back-half of the top-10 in recent years, and Team Penske’s dynamic duo can’t seem to go 10 clean races without angering their fellow drivers to take the title.

Somehow, throughout all of this, Ford has found a way to convince Tony Stewart and Gene Haas that switching from bowties to blue ovals is a good decision.

Never mind that the team will have to switch from gaining chassis and motors from Hendrick Motorsports to building their own chassis and relying on Roush Yates Racing engines.

Never mind that the move forgoes any sense of loyalty that the team’s members have with Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer – the retiring Stewart’s replacement next season – will each make their first starts for Ford next season as things stand. Harvick and Patrick have each made every Cup in their careers in Chevrolets. As for Stewart, a driver whose every NASCAR accomplishment has come in Chevrolet, and who famously left Toyota after one season to return to the manufacturer, nothing more needs to be said.

Never mind that Harvick looks like a championship contender yearly with Chevrolet. Never mind that fans across the US feel betrayed by the announcement.

Sometimes business supersedes performance. Judging by every piece of known evidence stacked against SHR is this decision, I’m assuming that’s what happening here.

I sure hope the money and resources are worth it.

-Aaron Bearden

Great Move. It Sets The Team Up For the Future

Look, Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas aren’t stupid and they’re not going to make the move unless they think it’ll serve the team in the long-run. They put six months of deliberation in before they pulled the trigger and sent the press release out to the media. The decision really comes down to three things:

Charters, support and talent.

Everyone knew that the charter system was a big deal, and now we know just how big it is if it could lead to the breakup of NASCAR’s power couple of Hendrick and Stewart-Haas. In years past, teams might have been content to continue alliances because of the pains switching could cause. Remember the issues Team Penske had when they switched to Ford from Dodge? They went from champions in 2012 to race 23 before winning a race in 2013.

But with a charter system that provides more purse money and a guaranteed starting spot in the field to those teams with a charter (SHR has four), teams can make more drastic changes knowing they won’t be going anywhere while the awkwardness happens. SHR can promise sponsors that the change to Ford won’t hurt for too long and that they’ll be back to top-shape in the coming years.

Of course, SHR could avoid the growing pains altogether and continue its dominance when 2017 rolls around. This dominance had to be in the back of Stewart and Haas’ minds when they made the decision to switch. They knew the reality that while they were becoming Chevrolet’s top team (they’ve won more championships than HMS since 2011) they would never surpass HMS in the Chevrolet pecking order, especially when the team received so much support from HMS.

A switch to Ford, however, puts SHR on the same level as Team Penske as Ford’s top team and the financial perks that come from being on the top of the pile. By adding chassis-making capability, SHR is much more self-contained than they were and doesn’t have to rely on someone else’s equipment.

SHR can leverage its newfound independence by selling chassis and such to other Ford teams. Roush Fenway Racing has had a terrible few years. I’d imagine Roush, Henry and Co. would gladly stand in line to receive support from SHR if it could right their ship.

This isn’t just a good move for SHR, it’s a good move for Ford. See why they made this coup?

But it’s about even more than money and support, it’s about talent. Ford has young stars in Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney – notice how they’re all aligned with Team Penske? It used to be that RFR was the pipeline that Ford relied on. How has that turned out the last few years? Trevor Bayne has been uninspiring since his 2011 Daytona 500 victory, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. couldn’t turn two XFINITY championships into meaningful Cup results, and Chris Buescher – last year’s XFINITY champion – is in Cup with Front Row Motorsports.

With only Darrell Wallace, Jr.Ryan Reed, Tyler Reddick, Jeb Burton and Daniel Hemric for Ford in the lower series – and all need more time before moving up – Ford realized that they need to work on future talent. The alliance with SHR does this – Cole Custer, anyone? I realize he’s driving for Chevy darling Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but his real allegiance lies with sponsor Haas Automation, and what team does Haas own?

Lastly, humor me for a moment. Ford lost a certain young driver to Chevrolet in the early 1990s, and that driver went on to win 93 races and four series championships. Jeff Gordon’s cousin James Bickford is running a Ford the K&N Pro Series West and should he progress up the racing ladder, I’d imagine that Ford would want to keep him in the fold to make up for the loss of Gordon all those years ago. SHR would be the perfect place for Bickford to land. That obviously isn’t the only reason Ford signed SHR, but wouldn’t it be a fitting way to change the manufacturer’s story?

Only time will tell whether or not this move is a great one, but mark my words: the Ford and Stewart-Haas marriage will be great for both parties.

­-Sean Fesko

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13 Comments
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kb

Well I am shocked, I thought the “family” would ever break up.

“Team Penske’s dynamic duo can’t seem to go 10 clean races without angering their fellow drivers to take the title”. Jeez, you are apologizing about character assassination about Kurt over a decade ago, and the Penske duo are a pain in the ass on the track for the old ladies, for the sin of racing and you are fine and go along with that narrative? SMH. That old tired narrative is just that, tired and extremely biased and one sided.

Sure Ford did not win in between, but the past two years they were right there, seeing how Team Penske’s Dodge went AWOL not to long ago, pretty good for a “small” group going against the longtime status quo. But it really doesn’t mean anything without that trophy, that’s what they tell us anyway.

It is what it is but I have to say it. If 2014 format had held true for the past 13 years Logano was Cup Champ, and yes Jeff Gordon as the classic points (good for him), but it did not get him or Joey squat.
Now Logano 2015 had the most wins, blah, blah, blah and would have had the most classic points and “old Chase points” if it wasn’t for some 43 year old disturbed liar, not lying once but several times with a twisted axe to grind. Anywhoo, it is what it is. Logano HAD the potential for two Cups in a row. Logano has the record for the most wins in the past two seasons. So Ford, Team Penske and he are doing something right. Imo. The point being Penske Fords have done well in a Ford, the idiocy of the format has not show it. I am no fan of the drivers of SHR, their antics going back a long time has turned me off. I laugh at Kevin Harvick having to acknowledge their names, the manufacturer in the future. Should be a laugh every time he opens his mouth. If you notice he never says a Ford drivers name or that the are driving a Ford, he barely says the car number. Lol.

I don’t know how, but I hope this move will elevate the other teams and the playing field will be rich with competition. We shall see what we shall see.

SS

KB,
Is there anything in racing that doesn’t inflame your yeast infection? It’s business plain and simple… if the check had enough zeros on it then Danica would be driving the FleshLight Ford sponsored by KY.

KB

Ah SS, the potty mouth moron is back, cannot make a comment about the article, always about a poster. So sad. I suspect it will be trolling and stalking as usual. You know, if I don’t like someone, I don’t troll them or read their posts, why would you give yourself a headache and get yourself worked up? Is it some sort of perverse satisfaction? Fascinating stupidity and psychotic. It must be love. love makes people do dumb things. And duh, you okele, of course it is business, doesn’t mean one cannot still be surprised by the announcement.

Russ

A reminder that race teams are businesses, and race cars are the product. Perhaps it says as much about the future of Roush Fenway with Ford as it does SHR.

DoninAjax

Who’s going to be Hendrick’s new partner? Johnson and Jr. need all the teammates they can get.

Rod

WHAT A JOKE…… You must be one of those fans of whoever wins the Championship is who you say you were going for all year long.

jocko flocko

They deserve one another. What a huuuuuuuuuuuge mistake. The next Roush Fenway.

Ricky

Tony may be doing the talking about this being a business decision but I bet that Gene Haas is behind the move. Stewart has always been loyal to Chevy and he uses those engines for his sprint cars which are his first love. The last time he was incapacitated GH hired Kurt Busch which according to reports didn’t make
Tony happy. I cant belief that Chevy is that frugal not to match a Ford offer to Keep a championship winning team from leaving the folds.If SHR wants to be independent of Hendrick they could build their own chassis in house as they plan to do now. The only good technical knowledge coming from Ford teams is with Team Penske and how has that worked for RFR and RPM? I cant see Penske sharing info with SHR who is a championship winning team and one of their chief competitors. I feel this deal has something to do with Haas’s Formula One plans somewhere down the but only time will tell line

Brian

Hmm you don’t remember the past do you?? Tony ran Mopar in his sprint cars back in the early 2000’s when dodge was throwing money around?

rcr29kh

Can’t believe SHR would chance a drop in their on track performance–two championships since Tony went there and one position short of three. Can the money from Ford be that great for them to race mid pack with Roush and Petty?

Seems like if you wanted to start doing your own chassis, do it with the Hendrick support until you have the bugs worked out.

Anyone know when Harvick’s contract is up with SHR?

Mike

When you run spec cars, what difference does the “manufacturer” sticker make? Pardon my snarkiness…

Barisax

Relax bowties. HMS will get MWR and his jet-fueled cars to replace SHR. Michael can cooperate Chad and bend and break rules together while going for another championship.

Rod

MWR HAD TO CHEAT WHEN HE HAD TOYOTA……

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