Cup preview: Stewart-Haas Racing
Expectations For Stewart-Haas Racing
One in a series of 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team previews ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500:
Principal owners: Tony Stewart, Gene Haas
Engine source: Hendrick Motorsports
Alliances: Hendrick Motorsports
2013's top finisher: Kevin Harvick, third (with Richard Childress Racing); Ryan Newman, 11th
2013 grade: B
2014 preseason grade: B-plus
2014 outlook: Stewart-Haas Racing has generated more preseason intrigue than any other team competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Bringing in two strong personalities (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch) to a team with the nucleus of owner/driver Tony Stewart and media darling Danica Patrick has the potential to turn SHR into a superteam -- or a super flop. Much of the team's potential for 2014 depends on how well the four drivers get along on a personal and professional level. On a one-for-one basis, the swap of Harvick for the departed Ryan Newman looks like a plus for SHR. Gene Haas' aggressive recruitment of Busch -- which occurred when co-owner Stewart was laid up with a broken leg after an August sprint car accident -- could be a stroke of genius, but it also demonstrated possible cracks in the Haas-Stewart relationship. Stewart was clearly miffed at being left out of the loop while Haas' aggressive reaction -- "Tony can deal with it or get out of the building" -- could not have set well with his ultracompetitive partner. Stewart is ready to put the controversy behind him and focus on getting back into race shape. Patrick, meanwhile, has the opportunity to learn from three of NASCAR's top drivers and needs to up her game if she wants to be taken seriously in the long term as a worthy Sprint Cup driver.
Quotable: "Our organization has gone two consecutive years where we've had to add to the existing program with a new team -- one year ago with the addition of Danica and this year with Kurt. Luckily, we're at the stage where NASCAR says we can't do any more teams. I think we're probably the most pumped up we've ever been. We've got a lot of great things to come this year, and I really feel like this is an organization that people have to watch out for. I think all four of us have the potential to do better than all four of us did last year. For sure, I feel like we've got three cars that can win races and make the Chase right now." -- Tony Stewart
"I'm in this business to win races. Kurt has been kind of a favorite of mine, and I thought this was a great opportunity to pair him up with Haas Automation and for him to be the driver of my choice. This is going to be my shot at being a primary sponsor, going to the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 as the primary sponsor. Haas Automation has never been in the winner's circle, and I'm sure that's going to change next year. That's my primary reason for basically pushing this expansion. It's been met with a little bit of resistance." -- Gene Haas
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet): "To be teamed up with Gene Haas and a top team has given me a better appreciation for how teams are developed, how teams come together and what it takes to be successful at the top level. But you can't put too much pressure on going and winning right away. I love how there's this perception that we won't be able to get along and there's going to be constant fighting. I think Tony extinguished it the best when he said we all know one another better than anybody else because we have the same characteristics, and we have that same fire and desire to compete from within."
2014 goal: First Cup race win for Haas Automation
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet): "I think the transition has probably gone a lot better than what I expected. I've been pretty involved in a lot of the things that have gone on, so it's been a lot of fun, and I feel like we've done all the right things. It's just a matter of getting on the racetrack and racing. Obviously, I feel like our cars are going to be fast, but I also am very realistic about knowing there are going to be some hurdles to overcome. I'm trying not to be overconfident about everything I've been involved in with these guys so far because it's all gone so well. But winning a Sprint Cup is all I think about. It's the one trophy in racing I feel has eluded my trophy case, and I'd like to see it put in there sooner rather than later."
2014 goal: His first Sprint Cup championship
Danica Patrick (No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet): "Our goal is ultimately, of course, to progress from where we were last year. We really didn't finish in the top 15 very much, and I think that's something we thought we were going to be able to do based on the 10 races I had done in 2012. I feel like I know the car much better than I did at this point last year. I have been to all the tracks now, have a general idea of a better way to go about the race weekend. It seems like we made some progress through the summer last year when we were pushing very hard after we had a struggling start. You have to have such an intense commitment to getting better every single day."
2014 goal: Greater consistency and a top-5 race finish
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet): "I really don't think there will be any limitations in terms of driving the race car at all. Our therapy has gone great. I wouldn't say I have anxiety; I'm just impatient to get back in the car. We obviously won't know exactly how the leg will respond and the amount of pain there may be until I'm in the car for the practice session before the Sprint Unlimited. So far the dialogue between all four [SHR drivers] has been unreal. The good thing is that we each have positive parts of our personalities that helps us feed off of each other and push each other, and that makes us a strong combination."
2014 goal: Regaining full physical fitness
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2014 SPRINT CUP TEAM PREVIEWS
A team-by-team look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contenders (previews of the remaining teams will be unveiled almost daily leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23):