KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Gene Haas has a present for fellow Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) co-owner Tony Stewart this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
The gray-and-red paint scheme of Haas Automation, the largest CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine tool builder in North America, will adorn the three-time champion’s No. 14 Chevrolet in Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
“Everyone at Haas Automation is appreciative of Tony’s partnership since 2009, the countless wins and two championships,” Haas said. “We thought it would be fitting to publically express thanks to Tony at New Hampshire – a track where he has such an impressive record and the site of one of SHR’s best days.”
Stewart is humbled by the honor.
“Gene is a great partner and dear friend and this means a lot to me,” he said. “I hope we can celebrate with Gene and all the Haas Automation folks in victory lane on Sunday.”
Haas founded Haas Automation in Sun Valley, California in 1983 to manufacture machine tools and entered the industry with the first fully automatic, programmable collet indexer – a device used to position parts for machining with high accuracy. Haas moved the company in 1997 to its current purpose-built facility located on 86 acres in Oxnard. By then, the company had shipped its 10,000th CNC machine and, less than 10 years later, had installed its 75,000th machine. To date, more than 175,000 Haas CNC machines are in service worldwide.
Haas began his NASCAR organization in 2002, enjoying limited success until 2009 when he added Stewart as a co-owner and formed SHR. Since then, the team has won 33 races and two Sprint Cup championships. Haas announced the expansion of his motorsports holdings in April 2014, when he launched Haas F1 Team. The first American team in Formula One since 1986, a span of 30 years, has exceeded expectations by posting 28 points so far – eighth-best of the 11 teams in F1.
One of the best days for Haas and SHR came on July 17, 2011 at New Hampshire after Ryan Newman and Stewart qualified first and second, then combined to lead 167 of 301 laps on their way to a first- and second place finish. The last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order was April 7, 1957 at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway with DePaolo Engineering. When the Sprint Cup Series returned to New Hampshire in September 2011, Newman again won the pole while it was Stewart who won the race. It was the first time in SHR’s history the team swept a track’s poles and races in a single season.
“For the organization to take the front row and get first and second, you couldn’t ask for a better weekend,” Stewart said about the July 2011 race weekend. “To come back in September and have similar success was amazing.”
Stewart would enjoy a repeat of the 2011 New Hampshire success this weekend and, based on his recent success, he has a chance. He visits New Hampshire just eight days after making his 600th career Sprint Cup start and finishing fifth at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, and 22 days since he made a last-corner pass at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway to earn his 49th career victory. Stewart has scored the ninth-most points of any driver in the last five races and 14th-most of all drivers in the 10 races he’s entered in 2016.
Because he missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain-vehicle accident, Stewart’s first race in 2016 didn’t occur until April 24 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. NASCAR granted Stewart a medical waiver that made him eligible for the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. After the Sonoma victory, Stewart now must race his way in by ending NASCAR’s 26-race regular season in the top-30 in driver points. Heading into this weekend, Stewart holds the all-important 30th position and leads 31st-place Brian Scott by 31 points.
New Hampshire has been a friendly place to Stewart, who’s in his 18th and final season as a Sprint Cup driver. In 33 starts at New Hampshire, Stewart owns three victories, 14 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s, plus a pole, and he’s led 1,302 laps. He owns an average starting spot of 12.6 and average finish of 12.5. He’s finished on the lead lap in 27 of his 33 races on the mile oval. Stewart’s third and final victory in IndyCar Racing came at the Loudon track on June 28, 1998, when he led 93 of the 200 race laps.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Last week at Kentucky, despite the race carnage, you stretched your lead over 31st place in the driver standings from three to 31 points. Was that a big points night?
“Yeah, and especially with the way the first half of the race went. We got in survival mode there and still wanted to race hard, but you didn’t want to do anything that was going to jeopardize finishing the race and capitalizing on the misfortune of the guys who are around us in points. We’re not really going to race anywhere else the rest of the year like Kentucky, so I don’t think it was an indication of what our season is going to be like, but we ran anywhere from 11th to 22nd, pretty much just stayed in that range all night.”
How did the Sonoma victory change your season?
“It was a game changer. We know we’ll likely be part of the Chase and already have begun some planning. The attitude of the team is great. It was so cool to walk into Daytona the week after the win and see everyone loose and smiling. We’ve carried that through to this weekend.”
Will the Sonoma victory or even a championship change your plans to stop driving Sprint Cup cars at end of the year?
“No. I’ve said all along Homestead is my final race and no amount of success will change that plan. I’ve enjoyed my career, but I am ready to move on and race other cars and do other things. I’ll still be around the NASCAR garage, just not as a Sprint Cup driver.”
What do you like about New Hampshire?
“There’s nothing tricky or fancy about it. It’s just a fun track. It just seems like it’s always been a fun driver’s track. Your car has to work well there but, when you get to racing guys, you’re trying to out-brake them, trying to get your car to turn and you struggle for forward bite. It’s just got a little bit of everything the drivers look for to have a good race.”
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
“It’s a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you’ve got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there, too, so it’s hard to get up off the corners. Then you’ve got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it’s hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again.”
What are some of your best memories of New Hampshire?
“One of them was actually not in a stock car. It was the first IRL (Indy Racing League) race we ran there. We almost had a full three-lap lead with 18 laps to go and had a crank trigger break on the motor. I remember it created a little bit of chaos for timing and scoring because there was a lot of confusion on when the leader came around. Did they add the next lap or did they have to wait for that to get caught up? I don’t remember how it ended up playing out, but I remember hearing afterward that it was a big drama. But that was probably the most fun I ever had at Loudon. We were just so hooked up that day, and we’ve had some great days there in the stock cars, as well.”
What makes New Hampshire unique?
“It just has long, sweeping corners. The corners in comparison to where we normally race, we’re used to having a lot of banking, but New Hampshire is pretty flat. It’s one of those tracks where you’re either fighting entry-loose, entry-exit and nice in the center, or you’re fighting tight in the center and you’re good on entry and good on exit. It’s a juggling act trying to get the car balanced for all three sections of the corner.”
GENE HAAS, Owner of the No. 14 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Do you see renewed energy from Tony Stewart?
“Racing is a tough sport. Thirty-nine of the competitors go home losers. We’re on that side most of the time, so we all know what it’s like –
OK, you just kind of hang your head, you pack up your equipment and you head home. I think every racer realizes that’s just part of the sport, and, for most of us, that’s what we do every weekend – we go home losers. Once in a blue moon when you do win a race, it’s phenomenal. When it does happen, it’s very addictive. It makes you feel renewed, and I know from Tony’s standpoint I’m sure this is a great motivator. Tony knows when he gets out in front that he has the ability to compete with anybody. He’s one of the greatest racers of all time in NASCAR. He’s smooth. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s fast. You haven’t seen that in a few years, and I’m sure that that grates on him. (Sonoma) is just a vindication that he has a natural talent, and that talent is something that is still there. You can see it. And I think he feels great, and I hope (winning) lasts for the rest of the year.”
What are your thoughts on Tony Stewart’s retirement from Sprint Cup racing at the end of the year?
“I think Tony is a really well-balanced individual. He doesn’t seem to get too excited either one way or the other. You know, I’m sure if he could go on, if he could keep winning, he would want to keep racing. But it’s hard. It’s a hard sport. You have almost 40 races a year and it takes a toll. I think he’s looking to some new adventures. He told me he bought an airplane, a Cirrus airplane, wants to become a little bit of a pilot. I think it opens doors to do other things. Tony likes to do a lot of things, that’s for sure. I think we all know that. And whether it’s off-road racing or Sprint Cup racing, he has a lot of hobbies to occupy him. So I think that, even though certainly I hate to see him go from NASCAR, we have a great lineup for next year and I think Tony is going to be perfectly happy pursuing new adventures.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine