Stewart-Haas Racing team mates Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick are to trade car crews and crew chiefs after this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
The change will take effect with in time for the AAA Texas 500 race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth beginning on October 31.
It means that the recently re-signed Tony Gibson will part company with Danica Patrick and move his team across the SHR factory floor to take over the #41 Haas Automation entry driven by Kurt Busch since the beginning of 2014.
Meanwhile Patrick will gain interim crew chief Daniel Knost and his team for her own #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet. However the pit crews for each respective entry will not be moved.
It's the second crew shake-up at SHR in recent weeks after Kevin Harvick was handed the crew from Tony Stewart's #14 team at the start of the Chase. SHR explained that it was exploring options for how it will structure its race line-up in 2015 to make it even stronger, after successfully getting two cars into this year's initial Chase line-up despite the difficult circumstances surrounding team co-owner Tony Stewart over the summer.
“We made this change to evaluate our program and to get a head start on 2015,” said SHR's vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli. "With the ban on testing next year, the last three races of this season take on even greater importance.
"For Tony Gibson and Kurt, they'll get three races together that will provide direction for next year. And for Daniel Knost and Danica, this is an opportunity for them develop a rapport that could potentially continue into 2015."
The move means that this weekend's race at Martinsville will be the last time Patrick and Gibson will be partnered. In the 70 races together since Patrick made the move to full-time Cup competition after exiting the open-wheel IndyCar Series, Gibson has helped deliver Patrick's first career pole in the 2013 Daytona 500 and her best career finish of sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in August this year.
Meanwhile Knost has been teamed with Kurt Busch since the start of the season when the 2004 Cup champion joined the SHR squad. Knost is a first-year crew chief with a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech, and was appointed somewhat on the fly at the start of the year after the team's late signing of Busch at the end of 2013 required SHR to set up a crew for a fourth car from scratch at very short notice.
It's proved a successful pairing: in 32 outings together, Knost has helped Busch make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for a second straight season and the eighth time in his career, along with six top-five and nine top-ten finishes including a win when the series raced at Martinsville in March. The pair would clearly like to repeat that success this weekend and notch up a second visit to victory lane before they part company.
"It was a dream come true when Gene Haas called me and told me that he wanted me to drive his car and to go for trophies and wins, it was an unbelievable feeling to deliver on that in just our sixth race together," said Busch of his sprint win at the Paperclip.
"To me, the toughest part of Martinsville is that you just never have a moment to breathe. You have to be on your game non-stop for 500 laps because somebody's on you or you are on top of somebody the whole time, and there is just no room for error," he added. "You may gamble early to pick up some positions on the track, especially if you've had trouble in qualifying. It's just one of those things, though, where you always hope you're on the right [strategy.] If you get caught on the wrong one, then you're kicking yourself the whole time."
For her final race with Tony Gibson as her crew chief, Danica Patrick will be flying some unfamiliar colours as she swaps her trademark GoDaddy lime-green for bright pink this weekend in support of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign.
"GoDaddy has done a lot to raise awareness about breast cancer," she said. "For this week we have a lot of names on the car of people that are affected by breast cancer. I know I put a few on there, including Holly Cain.
"I know the Gibsons donated and put some names on there as did others from SHR, GoDaddy and of course the fans," she added. "It's just a good way to raise awareness and remember the people affect by this terrible disease. We're all pulling for everybody to get through this and we're helping 'Put the Brakes on Cancer.'"
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