Haas' Quick Work Lands Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch

As expected, Stewart-Haas Racing has announced expansion to four cars for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series with the addition of Kurt Busch. (Photo: Getty Images)


KANNAPOLIS, N.C. - For a man who has been a part of NASCAR since 2002, consider this an introduction.  For a driver left to forage for rides the past two seasons, call this his salvation.

Gene Haas and Kurt Busch, two people with checkered pasts, form a unique bond.  Busch is Haas' guy.  Haas is Busch's hope.

They are together because Haas - previously the silent partner at Stewart-Haas Racing - wanted Busch so much that he’s investing his own company’s money.  They made it official Tuesday, announcing that Busch will drive a fourth car for the team next season.

Haas, founder of Haas Automation, orchestrated this deal without co-owner Tony Stewart’s knowledge or initial approval.

The team tried to make a deal happen last year with Busch but couldn’t find sponsorship.  Haas learned last month at Indianapolis that Busch was available after this season.  Haas was ready this time, deciding to have his company serve as the primary sponsor.  The deal happened so quickly that Haas didn’t consult Stewart, who is currently recovering from a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash earlier this month.

"I didn’t really have a chance to talk to Tony about it all since he wasn’t really talking to anybody, so I kind of did this on my own and probably overstepped my authority," Haas said Tuesday.  "I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with.  I didn’t realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it and he was.

"At first, he kind of 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.' "

Stewart told Haas to wait before the team expanded to a fourth car.  Stewart knew the issues the organization had this season moving from two to three teams and building the new Gen-6 cars.  Stewart struggled early in the season and was 20th in the points after the Coca-Cola 600, nearly halfway to the Chase.

The team doesn’t have enough space, but that will change.  They’ll add to their 140,000-square foot shop and Haas said he hopes that is complete by next summer.  They’ll also begin hiring more people.  No decision has been announced on who Busch’s crew chief will be or his car number.

The key question, though, is how well Haas and Stewart co-exist with this move.

"He has a lot of power," Haas said of Stewart, who continues to recover and wasn’t at Tuesday’s announcement.  "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."

With Stewart sidelined, Haas reacted without such checks and balances.

It was a big move for Haas.  Until he relinquished half the team’s ownership to Stewart before the 2009 season, Haas’ cars had been uncompetitive.  His teams scored 14 top-10 finishes in 284 starts with a variety of drivers that ranged from Jack Sprague and Ward Burton to Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs.

Haas had no previous experience running a race team until he became a Cup car owner.  He talked to some car owners about making the move.  Car owner Rick Hendrick offered the most telling advice.

"Rick looked at me and said, 'I don't even know why you'd want to do something like this,' " Haas said.  " 'You're totally insane to get into NASCAR racing.  If you want to get into it, I'll help you.'  That was really the start of it."

As Haas’ teams struggled, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for tax evasion, and had to pay $75 million in restitution and fines.  He was released in 2009 after serving 16 months.

Partnering with Stewart helped Haas celebrate wins and a championship in 2011, but that’s not enough for Haas.  He wants more.  So he looked to Busch to help deliver more victories, signing the driver to a multi-year contract.

"I kind of like his attitude," Haas said of Busch.  "He's passionate about what he does.  He likes to win.  He's not afraid to get in people's faces.  I think that kind of reflects my company a little bit.

"My main goal here is to win races.  I think Tony's main goal is not only to win races but to run a successful business.  I'm more interested in seeing the winning part of it.  Maybe Tony is going to be more the businessman now."

Busch’s move to Stewart-Haas Racing completes a journey that saw him leave Penske Racing two years ago after a series of controversial incidents.  The 2004 Cup champion went to James Finch’s underfunded Phoenix Racing team last season before moving to Furniture Row Racing, a single-car operation based in Denver, Colo., late last season.  Next year, he’ll be back with one of the sport’s elite organizations.

"I find myself in a great position with stability in the sport, knowing what I've done wrong, knowing what I've done right, then having a guy like Gene Haas believing in you and wanting to reach new heights with his team," Busch said.

His focus remains on getting into the Chase with Furniture Row Racing.  Two races remain until the Chase field is set.  Once this season ends, Busch then joins a formidable lineup at Stewart-Haas Racing with Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, who also joins the team next season.

It’s clear that Haas didn’t want Ryan Newman, Stewart’s friend who is leaving after this season, or a similar offer would have been made.

"I just simply wanted a change and an opportunity to do something different," Haas said of not having his company sponsor Newman next year.  "It gives me a chance to, you know, be a sponsor and direct things the way I wanted to direct them."

Even though Busch joins Stewart-Haas, his hire will be viewed as that solely by Haas.

"I take gambles, I made a decision and I think I'm going to be proven right," Haas said.  "I think we're going to win a lot more races than anybody ever thought possible."

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