Stewart-Haas Racing confirms Kurt Busch
27 August 2013
The reports and speculation were true: Kurt Busch was unveiled Tuesday as the newest signing of the Stewart-Haas Racing team, putting him alongside Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.
"That's the most exciting phone call you could ever receive," said Busch when asked about the moment he'd been approached by the team. "There's a thousand guys they could have called and I'm glad they called me."
The formal press conference unveiling the multi-year deal took place at SHR's headquarters at Kannapolis North Caroline, where work is already underway to expand the team's existing 140,000-square foot facility to accommodate a four-car line-up.
Only a few weeks ago as he announced that the team was letting Ryan Newman go at the end of the current season, team co-owner Tony Stewart had said that a four-car operation simply wasn't on the cards in the near future. But it turned out that with Stewart currently sidelined with a serious double fracture of his right leg, it was his partner in the team who made the solo decision to make a play for Busch.
"I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tick there," conceded multi-millionaire businessman Gene Haas. "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.
"I've been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was, he was a little upset," Haas admitted. "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.'
"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," Haas confessed. "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. That's where we were.
"Like I say, I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did. But I think he saw it my way, you know - either that or get out of the building," he laughed. "Anyway, he has a lot of power. I have to admit, you know, I have some power, too. I think in a sense it's a check-and-balance system where the two powers balance each other out.
"I think, you know, initially since it wasn't Tony's idea, he was taken aback a little bit by it. But I think he saw it wasn't a bad idea. In retrospect it looks like it's going to be a great idea. If we don't win any races next year, hey, I'm going to look like an idiot!"
"Tony was very much in favour of the fourth team," explained SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli. "What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year - just so you don't read anything more into it!
"I had a couple weeks to process it," he continued. "Tony was in the hospital. Tony didn't know the discussions that were going on. When we all met and talked about it and assured him we would do our best to make sure things didn't slip through the cracks, it took him a couple days to process it.
"I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'", Zipadelli added. "But it's an opportunity of a lifetime for a race team to have a calibre of a driver like this. I know he's [Tony's] very excited about it now. But it's a little overwhelming when you're first hit with it."
Still recuperating from his injuries, Tony Stewart wasn't at the press announcement on Tuesday but was quoted in the team statement released to formally confirm Busch's signing.
"I've had a tremendous amount of respect for Kurt's talent and determination for as long as he's been racing in the Sprint Cup Series," said Stewart in the statement. "Kurt is extremely knowledgeable, and his input will make all of Stewart-Haas Racing better.
"When Gene Haas laid out his plans for what he wanted to do in regard to this race team's future, which included bringing Kurt on board in a fourth car, it was impressive," he added. "You can't stand still in this business. You have to constantly improve. Gene's investment in this race team ensures the success of Stewart-Haas Racing for many years to come."
The team would not say how long the contract would run for - "The contract with Kurt is a multi-year contract. Other than that, we kind of keep that private," said Haas - and does not have a car number, crew chief or other personnel lined up yet with just four months to go before the start of pre-season preparations for 2014. However, there is a sponsor - Haas' own machine tools manufacturing business, Haas Automation.
"We always have room for another sponsor. We welcome sponsors. We love our sponsors and we'd like to have more. This is a business and we need our sponsors to help make this work," said Haas. "My primary purpose here, though, is winning. I think if you focus on the winning part of it, the sponsors will come."
One reason why many thought that Busch's NASCAR career might be effectively over was his explosive temper alienating big-money sponsors But that's not a problem for Haas, who rather likes that fiery aspect of Busch's personality.
"He's passionate about what he does. He likes to win. He's not afraid to get in people's faces," said Haas. "I think that kind of reflects my company a little bit," he added. "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."
The deal certainly completes a quantum leap for SHR over the last two years. Until recently the team was a decent mid-league operation very much reliant on Stewart's star power and charisma and his status as a three-time Cup champion. Then came Danica Patrick's arrival at the start of 2013 which upped the ante, and then conformation that Kevin Harvick would be replacing Ryan Newman. But adding another former Cup champion to the ranks in Kurt Busch takes them to the rarified heights of the likes of Hendrick Motorsport, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing in terms of star power and talent.
All of which raises the question of how the quartet of drivers are going to get along on a day to day basis.
"We built a rubber room upstairs, that's the first thing we did," laughed Zipadelli when asked how he thought driver debriefings were going to go. "When you have four passionate drivers, I would much rather deal with that than to try to figure out how to get them going. You're born with that. The competitiveness that these guys have, that's what you need in this sport.
"I think what makes this unique is there's three guys and Danica that all had their days. I think they can all help each other. At least that's the theory I'm going with."
For Kurt Busch, Tuesday's announcement is an amazing rebound from a career low at the end of 2011 that saw him part company with Penske Racing "by mutual agreement" after a public falling-out with team owner Roger Penske over a tempestuous and frustrating season all round. That saw him struggle to find a race seat at short notice for 2012 - he raced for James Finch's Phoenix Racing team in Cup events and helped launched his brother Kyle's Nationwide Series team - before landing a one-year deal with Furniture Row Racing for 2013.
It's been Busch's success in putting that team's #78 car within reach of a spot in the Chase play-offs that confirmed that whatever else might be going on in his career, Busch's driving talent was every bit as strong as when he won the Cup title in 2004 with Roush and that he was deserving of a much better berth than the one-car FRR operation was capable of giving him - which is when Gene Haas knocked on his door.
"Stewart-Haas Racing has proven itself to be a very competitive race team," said Busch on Tuesday. "Every team wants to win, but the preparation and resources Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone at SHR put into their racecars each and every week is incredible.
"The excitement is just at an all-time high," he insisted. "To have the opportunity to have Stewart-Haas as the emblem on the door as I go to work every day, work on making faster racecars with all the mechanics, but also to work alongside Tony Stewart as a co-owner and as a driver, he sees things from the driver's seat that I've been trying to explain for years to team personnel and owners. That's what makes his position so valuable.
"Harvick and I, an amazing connection we've had all through our career. Being rookies together, now to be coming to the same program at the same time," he added. "Then with Danica and her growth. I've always tried to take young drivers under my wing, show them some things around the track. That will be a nice situation for me to be in as well."
"This is the kind of situation every driver wants to be in, and I'm grateful to Gene Haas and Haas Automation for providing me this opportunity. I didn't think anyone wanted to win as much as me until I met Gene Haas."
One quirk of the line-up is that it puts Busch in the same team as two former IndyCar drivers. Tony Stewart won the Indy 500 and Danica Patrick's fame soared to new heights when she became the first female driver ever to lead laps in the iconic race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kurt Busch was also connected to a possible run in the IndyCar season finale at Fontana as preparation for a shot at the 2014 Indy 500 after he underwent a test at IMS with Andretti Autosport in May, so might his new team make such a prospect more or less likely?
"It's something that's still on the table," agreed Busch on Tuesday. "There's certain timelines that I've agreed to with Michael Andretti if we're still going to do the deal. We're working on things. I mentioned that to Tony when we got together, he said,' Man, if you're going to run Fontana this year, I'm rolling with you and I'm going to be there with you."
Sounds like it would make a good works outing and team-building exercise colleague with his new co-workers now that the deal is done and Busch is on his way to the newest powerhouse team in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.