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Childers, Busch in Stewart-Haas’ 2014 focus

August 23, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Crew chief expected to join SHR for 2014; Kurt Busch could add fourth car

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The expansion of Stewart-Haas Racing continues with the impending addition of crew chief Rodney Childers and potential addition of driver Kurt Busch, two players who could help make the organization a four-car powerhouse for 2014.

Michael Waltrip Racing confirmed Friday that Childers -- winner of three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races with the team, most recently last month with Brian Vickers -- would depart the organization, likely to become Kevin Harvick’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas next season. And SHR Competition Director Greg Zipadelli said the team is moving forward with plans to accommodate a fourth car that could be driven by the 2004 series champion Busch.

They are ambitious moves for a team that will also feature Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, and is bidding to become one of the elite organizations at NASCAR’s premier level.

“We are looking to expand,” Zipadelli said at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We are looking to do whatever we can to make Stewart-Haas a better place to race, to give our drivers better resources. … Our goal is to give our teams a better product to race every week going into Daytona. With four good drivers next year, I think it gives us that opportunity. Our owners are aggressive. It’s kind of exciting, it’s fun. At a time when everybody’s kind of going the other way, we’ve got owners who are committed to stepping up and making Stewart-Haas a bigger, better place in the future.”

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The latest move involves Childers, who for the past two seasons has overseen a No. 55 team at MWR in which three different drivers -- Vickers, Waltrip and Mark Martin -- have split the car. Vickers will move into that ride full-time next season. Childers is headed elsewhere, although Zipadelli said the deal for Harvick’s next crew chief is not yet completed.

“We love Rodney. We think a lot of him,” Zipadelli said. “He’s been a friend of mine for a while. We have talked to many people. He is on our radar, but we have no commitment, nothing signed. … We would love to make him a part of Stewart-Haas, but we are not there yet.”

Childers, though, gave a pretty good idea of where he’s headed. “As far as next year, it’s actually not 100 percent done. But I think everybody has a good idea what it is,” he said.

“There was no one thing that stood out at all. Everybody at MWR’s been great for five years, and really (I’ve) had no issues at all. It’s really just a personal decision. I’ve thought about it for a long time. I just woke up one day, and that’s what my heart told me I should do. Hopefully it works out.”

Meanwhile, the effort to bring Busch -- who currently has single-car Furniture Row Racing in position to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- into the fold continues. Zipadelli said SHR held talks earlier this week about expanding its North Carolina shop to accommodate a fourth car. “As far as that part of it goes, we’re pretty much committed,” he said. “We’re working on that, and if we can get it all worked out, we’re going to head that way.”

This from the same organization that last month at New Hampshire said it would not retain current driver Ryan Newman, citing the impending acquisition of Harvick and no room at the team for a potential fourth car. Zipadelli said the change in thinking was sparked by team co-owner Gene Haas, who founded the organization before Stewart was brought aboard as a driver and co-owner.

“Obviously, something’s changed. Gene is obviously a partner who started this many years ago. He’s always liked Kurt. We talked about Kurt last year, putting him in the 39 (car), and things just didn’t work out. It’s really nothing that Ryan did wrong. He’s done a great job, he’s a good guy, heck of a driver. This just kind of got sprung on us 14 days ago or less, this kind of all came down,” Zipadelli said.

“Gene just showed some interest in having the ability to put something together. Without getting into a ton more details, that’s really all it is. It’s something we’re working on. I don’t know that it will all come together, it’s going to take an awful lot. It is kind of late. We didn’t think we’d have all the pieces to put together at Loudon, and felt like it was best for Ryan to give him a fair shot at securing something for himself, which is the most important thing.”

Childers said he wasn’t sure how the end of 2013 would play out, and whether he’d remain with MWR for the rest of the season. Stepping away from the chance to work full-time with Vickers, a close friend since their go-kart days together, was the hardest part of the decision. But Martin, wheeling SHR’s No. 14 for most of the remainder of this year as Stewart recovers from a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash, knows why his former crew chief was in such demand.

“Rodney Childers is an amazing person, and I’ll say that first and foremost. Amazing. He’s very, very smart, and very dedicated, and an incredible crew chief. It’s funny how things work out. My mission in February was to help him secure a championship-caliber sponsor and driver for 2014, so that he could race for a championship in the 55. My, how things chance over time,” Martin said.

“I would assume the whole garage would be after Rodney Childers. Last year he did a one-year contract instead of a long-term deal, because he wanted to wait to see what transpired after our year together. He wanted to work with me and Brian and Michael in 2013, and see what 2014 brought. He’s in that position now to look at all options.”

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