Despite Gene Haas' plans to be on the F1 grid in 2016, it doesn't seem to be disrupting his stock car operation.
If pundits believed Gene Haas’ expansion to Formula 1 would sidetrack his NASCAR operation, think again.
Last weekend’s performance in the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series might be all the necessary proof to dispel that notion.
Sprint Cup Series points leader and defending champion Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Budweiser Chevy team continue to display remarkable speed. Harvick was atop the speed chart in the first two practices as well as the first two rounds of qualifying at Michigan before ending up second in time trials. On Sunday, he led the most laps in a race for the sixth time this season before a tire issue relinquished Harvick to 29th.
SHR’s Kurt Busch, who went on to win the Quicken Loans 400, led the most laps at both Bristol Motors Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Although Busch missed the first three races of the 2015 Sprint Cup season, since returning to action at Phoenix International Raceway — the fourth race of the year — he has earned three poles and two wins with the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevy. Under the direction of veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, Busch has an average qualifying effort o f 10.4 and an average finish of 9.9 — both career bests.
And although Busch has only competed in 12 of 15 Cup races this season, he’s 11th in the standings based on points and third of the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid based on his two wins. His 665 laps led are second only to his teammate Harvick, who has held the point for 1,225 of the 4,619 laps raced this season. For Harvick, that’s already the second most laps led in his career (he led 2,137) and the season is still three races from halfway.
Busch welcomed the off-week to rest up before the next nine-race stretch leading up to the final two races of the regular season and then the Chase.
“The best part about winning on a day like today,” Busch said on Sunday, “is there's an off week next week, so everybody will take this win and enjoy it for an extra week, recharge, and that will give us the gas we're going to need because we're going to try to go all the way to Homestead.”
Up for the challenge
Following Busch’s victory on Sunday, team owner Gene Haas put additional pressure on the driver. While he was upset that Busch wrecked his primary car in practice on Friday, Haas has been in the game long enough to realize that Busch was “just trying to find the limits”. But it’s because of Busch’s and Harvick’s immense talent that Haas fully expects his two champions to battle down the stretch come November.
I'm absolutely clear that I think Kurt Busch has the ability to win another Cup for us and for Stewart‑Haas Racing, and that really was my vision, and that's my goal.
“Racing is a hard sport,” Haas said. “As anybody will tell you, these guys really work hard. I think the run for the championship, that's what it's all about. I'm absolutely clear that I think Kurt Busch has the ability to win another Cup for us and for Stewart‑Haas Racing, and that really was my vision, and that's my goal.
“I tell you, when you see Kurt out there driving the way ‑‑ when it comes down to it, when he needs to pull ahead of another driver, there's some skills out there that they just don't teach you anywhere. That's what it's all about, and I think Stewart‑Haas Racing has a very, very good chance of winning another championship in NASCAR.”
Before SHR’s dynamic duo dominated Sunday’s Cup race, development driver Cole Custer won the truck race at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday — his second win in 12 starts and first of the season since joining JR Motorsports.
Despite running a limited schedule, the 17-year-old Ladera Beach, Calif.-native has two poles, three top fives and seven top 10s over the past two seasons. His average qualifying effort is 7.3 with an average finish of 10th.
Custer fought a green track after rain cleaned the rubber from the surface. He said the “handling went away” on his truck but with pit strategy and solid stops “things just fell into our laps.”
I don’t even think (the pressure) even bothers him. When we tell him to go, he goes.
“He’s done a fantastic job since we started this a couple of years ago,” crew chief Joe Sheer said on Saturday night after Custer’s win. “He’s really is mature for his age and he does a great job. I don’t even think (the pressure) even bothers him. When we tell him to go, he goes.”
This weekend Custer will pilot the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevy in the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway. Custer made his truck debut last July on the 0.875-mile track. He qualified fifth and finished eighth. Although Custer realizes the strength of the truck series, he’s optimistic regarding his chances this weekend since he is taking the same chassis that carried him to his New Hampshire and Gateway victories.
It's definitely going to be a hard race to win because, I mean, everybody is so on their game in this series.
“In the Truck Series, you're never out of it,” Custer said. “As long as you can keep it in the top 10, make your truck better through the race, you're always in it. Stuff happens with restarts at the end. You always have to stay after it and try as hard as you can through the whole race.
“It's definitely going to be a hard race to win because, I mean, everybody is so on their game in this series. It’s never easy to get one of these things. It's going to be a tough race. Definitely I've run good there in the past in the K&N car. I'm looking forward to going there.”
Custer, who turns 18 next January, will run the full truck season in 2016. If funding comes through, he could also run with a few XFINITY Series races to prepare for 2017.