Strength In Numbers
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – New is nothing new for 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch. He starts his 14th full season in the Sprint Cup Series paired with new crew chief Daniel Knost (pronounced: Ka-NOST) and driving the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
New team. New sponsor. New crew chief. New car number.
For the third consecutive season, “new” seems to be the theme for Busch. However, unlike the previous two seasons, Busch won’t be alone. This year, he arrives for Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with three teammates – three time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shop/Mobil1 Chevrolet SS, Danica Patrick in the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS, and Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS.
That talented stable of drivers is the reason Busch jumped at the opportunity to join SHR.
Busch started the 2012 Sprint Cup season with Phoenix Racing and 2013 season with Furniture Row Racing – both single-car teams competing against bigger, stronger and faster multicar teams. He met the challenge head-on and in 2013 became the first driver to earn a berth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup driving for a single-car team.
In joining SHR for 2014, Busch has the added resources of a multi-car team and three teammates who will help in the pursuit of his second Sprint Cup Series championship.
Busch is enthusiastic about the 2014 race season and is often seen around the Kannapolis, N.C.,-based race shop talking with crew chief Knost, his teammates, and even driving the Haas Automation Chevy for his pit crew during pit stop practice.
Haas Automation, which has served as a primary sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series for 10 different drivers and 109 races since 2002, will serve as a full primary sponsor in the Daytona 500 for the first time in the company’s 31-year history. Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World, is owned by SHR founder and co-owner Gene Haas.
When Busch takes the green flag in his No. 41 Chevrolet for the 56th Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, he will be attempting to bring Haas Automation its first Sprint Cup win as a primary sponsor and his first Sprint Cup win since Oct. 11, 2011 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. And Busch knows his way to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway. He won both the Sprint Unlimited and the first Budweiser Duel in 2011.
While Busch has scored victories in the preliminary races during Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona, and runner-up finishes in 2003, 2005 and 2008, he is still seeking his first Harley J. Earl Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Daytona 500. Busch sees the Daytona 500 as his first opportunity to reward the faith of Haas and Haas Automation for his opportunity to drive the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Explain your ability to adapt to new situations.
“Well, it’s a matter of working with the people who are there and learning from past mistakes, as well, and challenging yourself to try different types of motorsports, but then, the people side of it, as well. It’s been great to go through this the last couple years with Phoenix Racing and to have more of an appreciation for how a team is put together and developed and built. And now, with Gene Haas, Stewart, it’s an amazing opportunity that Gene has given me and I’m not going to squander it away. But you can’t put too much pressure on going and winning right away. We have a nice, steady progression that I see us going through, especially this offseason, but from the first race to that 26th race, we need to develop this 41 Chevy into a competitive, championship‑caliber team come September.”
How has it been getting to know your new crew chief Daniel Knost?
“He has been behind the scenes. Daniel Knost and the way he has approached the car, it’s through his engineering background. Aerodynamics are his strong suit. He’s been on the pit box for years calling races alongside the crew chiefs, and so now it’s all his. He’s taking nice steps I’ve seen of his progression, and the confidence within himself improves every week we’ve been together.”
What kind of advantages does a four‑person team have?
“Big teams have the advantage over the little teams as far as quantity. You’re able to go to the track and gather information quicker and have more people to filter through it. As long as that information is clear and everybody is easy to – able to – digest it, then that’s what you want moving forward with how to develop a car with a lot of new rules packages. That’s one thing I haven’t heard yet, that we should talk about, is the competition side. There’s a no‑ride‑height rule this year, and that will be very exciting to see how teams balance that out in their setups because last year’s setups will not work at all.”
Can you comment on the four alpha dogs and your feelings of how it’s going to work?
“Yeah, I love how there’s this perception that we won’t be able to get along and there’s going to be constant fighting. I think Tony extinguished it the best and said we all know one another better than anybody else because we have the same characteristics, and we have that same fire and desire to compete from within. I’m going to go back to when I was with my little brother on the Nationwide team, we didn’t have the best of years, and that would have actually challenged us to not get along and to be at odds with one another, and we handled it really well and at the end of the year it got swept under the rug. So there’s usually a lot of speculation about a fictitious moment that might happen.”
What’s the learning process been like at Stewart‑Haas since you’ve been there?
“It’s been great. A group of racers. It’s very easy and clear to understand everybody in all the different departments. Daniel and I are new together, so we have some of the same questions, and he’s been there for many, many years in his system. I’ve been in the garage area at my capacity in my system, so we can compare the two very easily and help each other through this. You’ve got guys like Greg Zipadelli as a competition director and a Matt Borland as the engineering specialist, you’ve got all the top guys in the right spots.”
What does it say about Tony Stewart’s influence in the garage that both you and Kevin Harvick were so eager and interested to join Stewart-Haas Racing?
“Gene Haas and the Haas Automation group had a Winston Cup team, NEXTEL, and now a Sprint Cup team over the years, but when Tony came on board in 2009, it was an immediate injection of top people with mechanics and engineers who made the program successful. And then it produces a championship in just two years. It is a program that has such a strong potential when you have Tony’s ability to find the people, and then you have guys like Joe Custer and Gene Haas who are there with the financial side who want to see success. When you implement the money side of it and the people side together, that’s a formula for success.”
Personally, how gratifying is it to be making the most of the opportunities you’ve been given?
“Well, it’s great to have that chance from Gene Haas. When he’s out there developing a team like this and it’s questioned by Tony back in September – ‘Are we ready to do this?’ – and then you get the news that Gene Haas wants to go Formula 1 racing, it shows his passion for motorsports. It shows his ability to engage like he is to find the talent to get the certain positions done, and I’m glad he’s invested in me, and I want to deliver for him.”
Do you ever think back on how far you have come from early in your career to now?
“Well, for me in 2009, it was a great season at Penske Racing. We had a shot at the championship, leading up to the final couple races in the Chase, and then 2010 and 2011, to finish 11th in points and to come up outside of the group that goes to Vegas to celebrate with the sponsors and to say that you’re putting a nice trophy on the mantel to have a certification of a successful season, it never happened. So, for me to take a step back, there’s a mutual decision there, but it’s never talked about, and for me to step back and to have fun and to build up through the tougher way that drivers used to have to break into Sprint Cup racing, which was with the underfunded teams and to do it the hard way, it was fun to do that in a retro way because I am an old‑school guy. And now to be teamed up with Gene Haas and a top team, it’s given me a better appreciation for how teams are developed, how teams come together, and what it takes to be successful at the top level.”
The Sprint Unlimited – talk about getting the season off and running and having a chance to race in it.
“Yeah, for a new team, we need this type of atmosphere to engage into a race, to have crew chief‑driver communication, to have the pit crew jump over the wall and do their duties in a pressure‑filled situation. So, as a new team, it’s vital to be in that race and I’m glad we’re part of it.”
Does it interest you at all not knowing the Sprint Unlimited format, or do you leave that in the hands of the team?
“You have to be engaged in all aspects of it, and this is a good team-building process for the 41 Haas Automation Chevy. Secondly, you’ve got to think on the fly, and this will get Daniel Knost up and at it and on top of things, and then myself to digest the Stewart‑Haas chassis, the car, how the motors run from Hendrick. There’s a lot we’ll be able to evaluate in that quickie race.”
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- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.