KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– For many, the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is just another West Coast race to start the season. But for 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), a trip to Southern California means much more than just 200 laps around a 2-mile oval.
The “H” in SHR is team co-owner Gene Haas, who also is the founder of Haas Automation, the largest computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool builder in the Western World. His company, Haas Automation, which is based approximately 100 miles from Auto Club Speedway in Oxnard, California, is the sponsor that appears on the hood and quarterpanels of Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet SS at each stop along the Sprint Cup schedule.
Gene Haas founded Haas Automation in Sun Valley, California in 1983 to manufacture machine tools. The company entered the machine tool industry with the first fully automatic, programmable collet indexer – a device used to position parts for machining with high accuracy. Haas moved the company to its current purpose-built facility located on 86 acres in Oxnard in 1997.
After finishing fifth at Phoenix International Raceway last Sunday, Busch remained on the West Coast to meet with some of the 1,300 Haas Automation employees who work at the headquarters and sole manufacturing facility with his car owner. It’s a multipurpose visit as it has Busch not only signing autographs and participating in a question-and-answer session, but also getting to see some of the latest and greatest machines that Haas Automation produces. Some of those machines serve a dedicated role in Busch’s day-to-day racing life, as well as Haas’s latest venture, Haas F1 Team.
Haas’s involvement in SHR extends well beyond that of a car owner and sponsor. His machines play an integral role in the successes of the title-winning Sprint Cup team. In the SHR shop, alone, there are 14 Haas CNC machines making parts and pieces for the four-car Sprint Cup team’s fleet. There are currently 16 Haas machines next door in the Haas F1 Team’s headquarters, and that number will grow to 21 after the arrival of additional Haas CNC machines, including the five-axis UMC-750. Half a dozen Haas machines will be sent to a facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England that will serve as Haas F1 Team’s European base, allowing for easier and quicker access to the team’s overseas suppliers and streamlined logistics for when the team travels to Formula 1 venues in Europe. Scuderia Ferrari, technical partner of Haas F1 Team, just took delivery of the first of three machines that will be used in its Maranello, Italy headquarters.
Apart from the SHR shop, Hendrick Motorsports, which provides engines and chassis to SHR, also has 50 Haas CNC machine tools, including vertical machining centers, horizontal machining centers and turning centers with C-axis, sub-spindles and live tooling. Hendrick Motorsports cylinder heads, used by SHR and others in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series, are machined using Haas ES-5 horizontals. These complex parts start life as semifinished castings supplied by Chevrolet.
With a top-five finish in his first start of the 2015 season, Busch is looking forward to this weekend’s 400-miler, and he’s optimistic about his chances to improve on that this weekend. There would be no better place for the Haas Automation team to celebrate a victory than in the company’s home state.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you like about racing at Fontana?
“What I like most about Fontana is the fast layout and flat corners. It’s got a wide groove, meaning you can race around the bottom, middle or top of the racetrack. You can go several cars wide down the straightaways and into the corners. It’s a lot of fun to race there.”
You talked about feeling good heading to Fontana because of similarities to Homestead-Miami Speedway. Talk a little bit about that.
“The largest similarity to Homestead is the worn-out asphalt and how it chews up tires. There is a lot of falloff from the beginning to the end of a run. Tire conservation is coming back into play. I worked with (crew chief) Tony Gibson and the guys on the No. 41 Haas Automation team at Homestead in the final race of the 2014 season, so it’ll be a good opportunity to look at what we learned there and apply it toward this weekend’s race. We learned a lot about tire management that weekend, and I think that will be applicable when we get on track this weekend at Fontana.”
How important is it to you to race each weekend in the name of Haas CNC machines?
“Fontana is Haas Automation’s home track. It’s always a great sense of pride to win so close to a company’s headquarters, so this race carries that extra importance. Winning at Martinsville Speedway last year, delivering Gene his first win, that was really special to be able to accomplish that. If we were able to pull the Haas Automation Chevrolet into victory lane Sunday, I think it would be on the same level as that first win.”
How big are restarts at Fontana?
“Restarts at Fontana are a high-speed chess match with drafting – a low lane and high lane. You can get super aggressive and try to gamble, but it can bite you if you don’t clear the guy, or the group of guys, who you’re trying to pass. The cars fan out and it’s three or four wide and it’s a very exciting track on restarts. The late restarts are intense. The track is wide enough for four cars, and teams are usually on different tire strategies. With the 2015 rule package, the decreased horsepower, I think the draft will play a larger factor than it has in years past.”
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