Kurt Busch delivers on Haas' bold move
April 01, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
When Gene Haas introduced the well-travelled Kurt Busch as the fourth driver for the Stewart-Haas Racing team last August, it caught some by surprise -- to a certain extent, even co-owner Tony Stewart.
But Haas was so confident in the 2004 Sprint Cup champ Busch that he was willing to put his company Haas Automation on the side of the No. 41 Chevrolet and to convince his then-ailing co-owner Stewart (weeks removed from a serious leg injury) that adding a fourth team to their operation would work, even if it meant massive infrastructure change.
Only six races into the 2014 season and both of Stewart-Haas Racing's newbies, Kevin Harvick and Busch have wins.
And Busch sure made Haas' gamble look like easy money Sunday in Martinsville, Va., Victory Lane, where fittingly, the victor's gift -- a grandfather clock -- confirmed Busch's time had come. Again.
"Obviously, it feels good," said Haas, who held an impromptu teleconference with reporters Sunday night from his California home.
"Basically, there were a lot of naysayers and doubters out there about Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony (Stewart) having his injury last year and it looked like we were all washed up and out of business. But it just goes to show you that there is a team behind everybody that was always the backup plan we are still going forward.
"Racing is tough. Every time you win you typically lose three times. … The challenges are great and that is what makes me feel good that we could overcome our adversaries. You feel really good when you are racing hard against people that don't give you an inch and then you can actually beat them."
And for a driver who has cultivated and embraced an image worthy of his nickname, "The Outlaw," it's of little surprise that Busch's first win in two seasons came with a little controversy for good measure.
He had fender-bending tiffs with Brad Keselowski on pit road and on-track that ended with the two drivers reminding one another that they each have long memories and a whole lot of season left to right being wronged.
In his winner's interview, Busch called Keselowski's retaliation from an early race collision on pit road a "punk-ass move."
Then Busch -- who likes to spar with media as much as his competitors -- in the middle of a live ESPN interview referred to the studio host as one of the "clowns" in the media "trying to egg on" a confrontation between the two drivers instead of simply giving Busch his day's victory due.
By nightfall, Keselowski had already posted on Twitter that he had "moved on" from the whole sordid ordeal, even taking back any blame he'd given his former Penske Racing teammate Busch for the initial run-in on pit road.
On Monday, Busch seemed more annoyed than angry telling NBC Sports that it was "all a part of racing." However, he reiterated his intentions to "race him (Keselowski) hard and not back down" in the future.
In many ways Sunday afternoon was indicative of Busch's career. No one doubts the former champ's supreme talent behind the wheel, but it comes with conditions -- a good dose of patience and tolerance to properly manage his sometimes volatile personality.
When that passion and skill set is focused, no one's harder to beat.
It sometimes seems as if Busch is racing like a guy with a chip on his shoulder, but it would be hard to argue the method.
After losing his ride at Penske Racing in 2011, he spent 2012 over-achieving for the small-budget Phoenix Racing and then last year humbly helping the single-car Furniture Row Racing team become legitimately competitive week in and week out.
So this win wasn't just vindication for Haas, but for Busch too.
"You know, it was a process," Busch said of getting back into Victory Lane after an 83-race winless streak. "It was a challenge to work with those Furniture Row guys. I thought we were knocking on the door about the 10th race in last year, and we couldn't win.
"It's amazing how many things have to fall into place, and so I never doubted myself. I never gave up. I kept trying to find little stones to uncover and rocks to overturn to try to make teams better for the way that I knew how to make them, and I was just trying to find the right combo, trying to find the combo that (crew chief) Daniel (Knost) found today, and Stewart‑Haas Racing is that combination for me.
"It's great to win six races in with a brand‑new team like this and have that feeling of a competitive organization around you.
For Haas, it's part relief and part 'I-told-ya-so.' "
He was right.
"We have obviously found a solution for Kurt Busch," Haas said. "When he is in the Winner's Circle he doesn't bitch about anything so that is where we need to keep him."