Sprint Cup-winning Stewart-Haas Racing will expand into the NASCAR Xfinity Series next season.
The move, which will further increase intrigue in F1 circles as Haas driver Romain Grosjean continues to talk up a possible NASCAR outing, will see the Stewart-Haas organisation field a single full-time car in the support series, with a driver and sponsor line-up to be announced prior to the conclusion of the 2016 season. The Xfinity Series team will be run from SHR's headquarters in North Carolina, alongside its Sprint Cup and F1 operations.
“In order to maintain the competitiveness that has earned SHR two championships since our debut in 2009, we needed an outlet to develop drivers and team personnel for the Sprint Cup Series,” vice-president of competition Greg Zipadelli explained, “People make the difference between winning and losing and an Xfinity Series team gives us added depth that will allow us to promote from within whenever necessary.”
SHR won its first Sprint Cup championship in 2011 with co-owner Tony Stewart behind the wheel, and earned a second title in 2014 with Kevin Harvick. Since its inception in 2009, SHR has won 33 point-paying races, two non-point races and 28 poles.
“An Xfinity Series team has always been something we would consider when the time was right, and that time is now,” said Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation and Haas F1, “Staying successful in this sport means staying ahead of the curve, and having an Xfinity Series team provides an in-house driver development program and a new channel for personnel to make a positive impact with our race team.”
“This is a natural progression of SHR's growth and one that allows us to be more self-sufficient,” Haas added, “If you look at all the teams that are successful in Sprint Cup, they have a direct connection to the Xfinity Series where drivers, engineers, mechanics and pit crew members are developed. We're an established team with a strong infrastructure that is ready for this endeavour.”
While the announcement does not necessarily mean that Grosjean will get his first taste of NASCAR outside of the Sprint Cup, it could provide the Frenchman with an alternative means of satisfying what is becoming a growing desire to try a very different style of racing to what he is used to. The latest update on his NASCAR dream appeared to put it on hold until 2017 after time to prepare for a possible road course outing at Watkins Glen, hampered by the compact F1 schedule, ran short.
"In terms of racing, the only choice we have now is Watkins Glen in the August break, but it's a bit tricky doing that,” Grosjean, who plans to spectate at both Kansas and Homestead later in the year, confirmed last month, "I want to do it, but it doesn't fit very well with the schedule, so it's either Watkins Glen or next year. If it's not this year, then I will practice over the winter, and next year we will definitely put it on the calendar. But I want to get in some days of testing. It's pointless being there to be last.”