28 August 2013

Could Stewart-Haas Racing be the team to beat in 2014?

Another domino has fallen in terms of NASCAR's silly season as it was announced that Kurt Busch, who has been racing this year for Furniture Row Racing, will be joining Stewart-Haas Racing next year. What is fascinating about this deal is the face of SHR, Tony Stewart, was not responsible for this decision, rather it was co-owner Gene Haas' move to pull this off with Stewart recovering from broken bones in his leg sustained in an injury from earlier this month. "I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did," Haas said during the press conference, a subtle reference to Stewart's prior comments about how the team, after adding a third full-time team piloted by Danica Patrick this year as well as acquiring Kevin Harvick for next season as well, was not planning on adding a fourth team. However, Stewart relented when Haas said that he, through his company Haas Automation which had funding the team before Stewart took half ownership of the team back in 2008.

So now with a driver lineup as good as any in the sport, how strong will Stewart-Haas Racing be in 2014?

Well considering we are still in the 2013 Sprint Cup season and not even at the Chase yet, it probably is a little too early to be looking at teams to beat for next year, but when an organization is adding drivers with the caliber of Harvick and Busch to go with a champion like Tony Stewart, that is one fine lineup.

Harvick will be the sole male who has not won a championship at SHR but he is still one of the top drivers on the circuit. After all, he has finished in the top four four times in the last seven years and he has looked terrific this year despite it being a lame duck season with Richard Childress Racing as he sits fourth in points with a pair of victories. Plus he will get to work with one of the better crew chiefs on the circuit in Rodney Childers, who is coming over from Michael Waltrip Racing.

Busch is a more interesting case for obvious reasons. There is no doubt that he is an incredibly talented driver, let's not forget that he was the 2004 Cup Series champion, but his notorious temper has gotten the better of him many of time, most famously leading to his release from Penske Racing. It's why a driver like him had to toil for much of last year at small Phoenix Racing and for the last year plus at Furniture Row Racing. But at FRR, he has shown that he is still a talent as he has been in contention for wins in many races, only to be struck by bad luck, and has given this one-car team from Denver by far the best season of its history and has it in legitimate contention for the Chase.

But while there will be this great collection of talent, that alone does not mean the team will do well next year. This is a team that is expanding quickly, adding two full-time teams in just two years, and that can take a toll on the organization. And SHR has not had a great year to this point as Stewart and Newman were fighting just to get in the Chase when Stewart went down with his injury and Patrick has not had a top ten since the Daytona 500. Plus, this will also be a team with four drivers that are all fiery and passionate, which could make for some awkward team meetings.

Nonetheless, this is an exciting time to be a part of Stewart-Haas Racing as it will have a pretty impressive slate of wheelmen when we roll into Daytona for Speedweeks 2014. Whether or not it will compete on the same level as Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, etc. right away will remain to be seen.

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