KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – In slang, the term “old school” can refer to anything that is from an earlier era or anything that may be considered old-fashioned. The term is commonly used to suggest a high regard for something that has been shown to have lasting value or quality.
Call him nostalgic, but Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has always seemed to gravitate toward, and respond well with that old-school feel in an age where racing has embraced an engineering-based leadership.
So, when the Haas Automation team arrives at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, it will have a different, yet familiar look thanks to a crew swap between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick that will go into effect this weekend in preparation for the 2015 season.
Busch, spotter Rick Carelli, and the No. 41 team’s pit crew are the only remaining members from the Haas Automation team that began the 2014 season. Beginning this weekend, the mechanics, engineers and entire road crew for the No. 41 team will be led by crew chief Tony Gibson, who will take the seat atop the Haas Automation pit box.
For Gibson, leading a race team isn’t just about making the right calls during any given race. Instead, the Daytona Beach, Florida native takes a hands-on approach with his racecar at the SHR shop, and it extends all the way to the racetrack – something many consider to be old school. He oversees every aspect of the development of the team’s fleet of racecars. He takes great pride in working with his cars, from bare chassis, to hanging the car’s body, to painting and decaling the car, to setting up the car for each track. Gibson wants to be there with his racecars each and every step of the way.
Gibson came to SHR in 2009 from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., to serve as Ryan Newman’s crew chief of the No. 39 Chevrolet. Many of the crewmembers who worked with him came to SHR, as well. As such, Busch gets a close-knit crew that believes in the old-school mentality that has been a key to the group’s success.
A look at Busch’s career shows that he’s seemed to thrive when he’s paired with a crew chief who shares that same, old-school mentality that Gibson has. Busch has been quick to compare Gibson to Jimmy Fennig, with whom he’s won 14 Sprint Cup races and the 2004 championship.
While the team may look different this weekend, the goal remains the same. Even though he’s no longer in contention to win the Sprint Cup championship this year, Busch wants to finish the season with as many solid finishes as possible and, ideally, wins. Beyond that, as Gibson enters the picture with three races remaining in 2014, Busch and his new-look No. 41 Haas Automation team are working together to get a jump on 2015.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
This weekend’s race at Texas will be your first working with crew chief Tony Gibson. Talk a little bit about that.
“I’m looking forward to Texas, first off, because it’s a track I’m very comfortable with. It’s a bread-and-butter type track for me. It fits my driving style. I go to Texas every race looking for a top-10 finish. But now I’m jumping in with Tony Gibson and making the crew change, so we’ll have to be patient with things. We’ll have to look at each of the sessions that we’re out on the racetrack and really move forward as a group with those first few steps being important, and not trying to go for that all-out win on the first weekend out of the box together. I’m looking forward to using what has been a good track for me toward working with a new team.”
You mentioned your success at Texas. You scored a top-five finish in your first Sprint Cup start there and have 12 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. Why has it been such, as you called it, a bread-and-butter racetrack for you?
“I think it’s the way the banking transitions into the straightaway, into the corners. It’s a very smooth racetrack but, at the same time, it’s a driver’s racetrack because of the way the asphalt is worn out. You have to manage the tires. You can’t just go all-out for the whole fuel run. Making sure that the car uses all four tires is an important trait to finding success at racetracks that are worn out.”
You have one Sprint Cup victory at Texas. What would it take for you to win there again?
“It’s being able to get that throttle-on time through the center of the corner and being able to leave it on the floor. You have to be able to jump on the gas early at Texas and make sure you’re able to leave it on the floor all the way around the corners.”
Back to working with Tony Gibson this weekend – talk about expectations you have of working with him.
“There won’t be a question of respect or lack of confidence with Tony Gibson because I know he’s been around to do it and knows exactly what has to happen at each type of track. Until now, I’ve felt like I’ve worn a mentor hat or wore a hat of helping the crew chief understand the pitfalls he was going to experience this year. I’ve enjoyed it. I was hoping to build a consistency, and that’s what we didn’t get done. Winning a race and getting in the Chase, that wasn’t all that the 41 car was here to do. It’s to be competitive week-in and week-out and have consistent shots at winning. I’d consider the year a success, but there are certain areas we can look at that we did what we wanted to, and there are certain areas that we looked at that we know we can do a better job.”
Why make this change now rather than finish out the season and start fresh for 2015?
“With the testing ban that’s being imposed for 2015, it makes sense for us to make this change now and get ahead of that. While there will be numerous rule changes that will change many facets of the package that we’ll have to race with next season, making this change now gives myself and Danica a couple of weeks to get a baseline established with our new teams. Making this move beginning at Texas will help myself and Tony Gibson establish a good sense of communication – for me to be able to communicate to him what I need out of my racecar, and for him to be able to anticipate the direction to go with changes.”
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