Now that some of the dust has settled and shock has worn off regarding SHR’s surprise announcement the other day that it would trading its bow ties for blue ovals starting next year, time for some analysis.
First, the announcement’s timing. While at first glance it seems more than a little peculiar to drop such a bombshell while the track workers are still sweeping confetti out of Victory Lane at Daytona, there is a certain method behind the madness. One, it puts a fair amount of additional pressure on the existing Ford teams to produce, given how the eight hundred pound gorilla will be grabbing from the same bunch of bananas come this time next year. Two, it gives SHR a convenient excuse should this year become a nothingburger – “hey, what did you expect, we’re a lame duck, you think Chevrolet and Hendrick are going to be sending us the good stuff?” The onus then falls on Chevrolet and Hendrick for looking like jilted brides.
Second, why the switch. Let’s look at it from Ford’s perspective. Other than Team Penske, what do they have? Roush Fenway is in a deep slump, and Petty Motorsports is firmly in the thanks for coming department. This leaves Ford’s hopes resting solely on Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, neither of whom are exactly beloved characters in the garage. You don’t think every other driver on the track silently yelled “ATTABOY!” when Matt Kenseth punted Logano last year? And it wasn’t all about the driver’s code. Long story short is Ford could use drivers with both broad fan support (Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick) and drivers at least somewhat less likely to rouse the ire of one and all every time they put on a firesuit. Plus Harvick and Kurt Busch know how to win, which is reportedly the idea in auto racing.
Now, you may have noticed beyond the obligatory carefully worded press releases there has been little wailing and gnashing of teeth from Chevrolet or Hendrick. Why? While doubtless they rue letting SHR go from a winning standpoint (Harvick) and a marketing standpoint (Patrick), plus no longer being associated with Tony Stewart, they also no longer have to shell out both money and manpower for four other cars, thus freeing said money and manpower to be lavished on both Hendrick and Richard Childress. It also saves them from any further association with Gene Haas, who but a few short years ago spent a year plus in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to commit tax evasion. GM has enough problems without such an association, and it’s nothing Rick Hendrick can be enamored of either.
So, while at first glance it seems weirder than weird, there is no great mystery behind why this move and why now. Ford gets a top-flight team, SHR gets out from under Hendrick’s thumb … er, shadow, and both GM and Hendrick can now say to Gene Haas go with God but go. See? Simple.