Sprint Cup team preview: Stewart-Haas Racing
January 26, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
-- Change will be the overwhelming theme of the 2014 season for this organization, which added a fourth team with driver Kurt Busch. There will be two new drivers in all -- Kevin Harvick and Busch join team namesake Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.
-- Stewart is returning to competition after missing the last four months of 2013, sidelined with a broken right leg he injured in a sprint car racing accident.
-- Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson are the only pairing retained from last season. Stewart, Harvick and Busch will have new crew chiefs.
-- With Stewart’s injury and Patrick’s rookie learning curve, Ryan Newman was the sole SHR driver to make the Chase. He finished 11th and won one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, the Brickyard 400 from the pole.
2014 Driver Lineup
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet; Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet; Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet; Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet.
Stewart is hoping to get medical clearance to race in time for The Sprint Unlimited non-points race during Daytona Speedweeks. However, the three-time champ has cautioned he won't be completely back to form in the early portion of the season. Last year he and the whole SHR organization got off to a slow start figuring out the new Gen-6 car. But he had just turned the corner -- winning at Dover and finishing runner-up in the summer Daytona race in the weeks before his injury. Chad Johnston, who worked previously with driver Martin Truex Jr., will be Stewart's new crew chief, replacing Steve Addington.
Patrick started her rookie campaign in historic fashion, becoming the first woman to win the Daytona 500 pole. However, her eighth-place finish in the race was her only top-10 in a season of expected hard knocks and learning curves. She considers her 12th place at Martinsville, Va., to be a highlight as well, considering the difficulty of that race. She will benefit from the continuity of working with the veteran Gibson again, who, like Patrick and team owner Stewart, is committed to keeping expectations realistic even as they raise for her second full season.
Harvick disproved any lame duck conspiracy theories by turning in a high-performing final year at Richard Childress Racing in 2013 after a 13-year tenure with the team. He won four races, including two in the Chase, and was in contention for the Sprint Cup championship right up to the final race in Homestead, Fla. He ultimately finished third behind Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth and comes to SHR motivated and eager to take the next step in his career and finally hoist the Cup. He will be working with crew chief Rodney Childers, who, like Johnston, comes from Michael Waltrip Racing.
Busch completes the all-star lineup and, as with Harvick, comes to SHR fresh off a high-achieving, head-turning season. The 2004 Cup champ all but promised to land the small Denver-based No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team in its first Chase, and midway through the schedule, it was apparent, he would make good on that. Although he didn’t win a race, he scored 11 top-five finishes with season best runner-up finishes at Richmond, Va., and Kansas. He finished 10th in points, scoring only three top-10s in the 10 Chase races. He'll be paired with crew chief Daniel Knost.
This team has high-wattage personality to match its talent level. And that is a key unknown variable when it comes to how the team will perform with essentially four "lead" drivers.
How will Stewart race after recovering from such a serious injury? Will Patrick show marked improvement, even win a race? How long will it take Harvick and Busch to feel at home with their new team? And how will all the new crew chief combinations pan out?