By Steve Mickey
Stewart-Haas Racing has won two Sprint Cup Championships and 30 point-paying races since its inception in 2009. Gene Haas had been competing in the series for several seasons but when he brought in Tony Stewart as an owner, Stewart used his long standing relationship with Chevrolet to help broker a deal between SHR and Hendrick Motorsports that would provide championship proven equipment and technical support.
SHR started that first season as a two-team operation but with the full support of Chevrolet and Hendrick, they were immediately competitive. The early success attracted sponsorships that were rewarded with race wins and a series title by Stewart in 2011.
That success allowed the organization to grow into the four-car team that now competes in the series which just last season put two cars into the Chase after a 2014 season that saw SHR driver Kevin Harvick when the title. This success along with the races and multiple titles that Hendrick had won during this same time made the alliance between SHR and HMS the strongest in the Cup garage.
All of that combined success is set to end at the end of this season as Stewart-Haas announced that it will switch to Ford as its auto manufacturer partner starting with the 2017 Sprint Cup season. The multi-year agreement will see all of SHR’s four teams beginning next season in a Ford Fusion and will use engines prepared by Roush Yates Engines.
Ford has struggled in recent seasons as its premier organization Roush-Fenway Racing is no longer the threat that it was on race day. The banner carrier for the Blue Oval gang has been passed to Penske Racing’s two-car operation with drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Joining SHR and Penske in the Ford camp are the Wood Brother Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports.
The move to Ford will totally change the way that SHR goes about preparing its race cars as it will now expand its operation to include building its own chassis. The addition of more personnel to meet the added demands will also allow the organization to get out of the shadows of Hendricks and to build its own brand without having to share its success.
SHR knows that at some point this season it will have to start the transition of preparing new chassis and a change in body for 2017. That will tie up a tremendous amount of both time and personnel while at the same time having to make sure that all four teams are still competitive this season with an eye of making the Chase and winning a third title. It will be no easy task but the talent level at SHR should make for a smooth transition.
PIT NOTES: Atlanta was the second stop on the Sprint Cup schedule and even though NASCAR reduced the size of the starting field from 43 to 40 cars beginning this season, the field that took the green flag at Atlanta in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was only 39 cars. It was the smallest number of teams at a Cup race since 35 teams qualified for the 1993 Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The low number of cars comes just one week after only 44 cars attempted to qualify for the season opening Daytona 500 which was the lowest number of entries in the 58-year history of the race. It was also only the third time since 1998 that there were not enough cars to fill every available spot in the starting field. The reason why Atlanta didn’t have a full field and no doubt there will be others was the Charter System that was introduced just before the start of the season which guarantees 36 spots in the starting field. It makes it very difficult from the economic side for a non-Charter team to compete each week unless they have a major sponsor like the Wood Brothers. NASCAR no longer publishes the size of the race purse but it seems that the Charter teams are taking the bulk of the prize money with very little left for the non-Charter teams to share.
Event: Kobalt 400
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval, 20o of banking in the turns)
Date: March 6, 3:30 PM
Defending Champion: Kevin Harvick