The Case Of The Puzzling Manufacturer Switch

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.

Tony Stewart says Smoke will rise in 2014


September 3, 2013

Joking that he still must not be feeling well because he had actually missed the various media in attendance, NASCAR Sprint Cup three-time champion Tony Stewart spent well over an hour today discussing various matters during his first press conference following a sprint car accident August fifth in Oskaloosa, Iowa in which he suffered a severely broken leg that ended his 2013 racing season.

Stewart was in an upbeat if not altogether jovial mood as he discussed the accident and its aftermath. The primary point he made was that the current schedule has him back in a race car in February of next year, thus putting him in a position to run the entire 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Stewart laid to rest various rumors concerning a disagreement between him and Gene Haas, co-owner with Stewart of Stewart-Hass Racing, regarding Haas’ signing of 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and lightning rod for controversy Kurt Busch to create a fourth Stewart-Haas team next year. As Stewart explained, “It wasn’t as dramatic as he (Haas) made it sound. He told me on a Monday, and then that Thursday there was a contract. The biggest thing was Greg Zipadelli saying, ‘We can do this. It may not be fun or easy, but we can do it.'” Stewart further commented that his main concern was whether it would be possible to put together a fourth team period in the available time period and not bringing Busch on board.

As to his accident and whether he felt any remorse over participating in sprint car races at the risk of jeopardizing his participation in Sprint Cup, Stewart responded, “It’s just life, guys. Things happen every day that you can’t guard against. I’m going to live my life to the fullest in the limited amount of time I have on this earth. It doesn’t mean I can do what I want.” He later added, “This (the accident) hasn’t cut anyone’s paycheck. It hasn’t stopped anyone from working. Certainly it’s been great having Mark Martin driving the car. I’ve been attending meetings most every day. The only part of work I’m missing is me driving the car. It was an accident.”

On the subject of Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick Stewart commented, “I knew this would be a learning year for her. I was impressed with her race on Saturday (at Atlanta Motor Speedway in which Patrick finished twenty-first). Every week is a learning week. I’m not judging her by her finishing positions; it’s by what we talk about on Monday and what she is learning.”

The oft-displayed Stewart sense of humor came out once again when asked what he most missed about being at the track to which he immediately replied, “The hot girls. When you’re laying in bed, there’s not much traffic going through your bedroom. You’d think after three Sprint Cup championships and everything I’ve done in racing I could get at least one hot nurse.”

Stewart will be piloting a tricked-out scooter when he attends this weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway, the first race he will be at since the accident.