BY JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – While team co-owner Tony Stewart is sidelined at home nursing a broken right leg, Stewart-Haas Racing is charging full steam ahead with aggressive plans for 2014.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday the team is moving forward in its pursuit of 2004 NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, who has been offered a seat in a new ride that would expand the organization to four cars next season.
The push for Busch is being made by team co-owner Gene Haas, who Zipadelli said only wants Busch for the seat that apparently would be funded and sponsored by Haas’ CNC machine company Haas Automation, Inc.
“As far as Kurt’s deal, that is moving forward,” Zipadelli said. “We spent time this week talking about building and expanding. So as far as that part goes, we’re pretty much committed. If we can get it all worked out, we’re going to add that link.”
Meanwhile, Rodney Childers informed his Michael Waltrip Racing team he wouldn’t be returning in 2014 to crew chief Brian Vickers.
Although he has nothing officially lined up, it appears to be a mere formality until he finalizes a deal to move to SHR next season to crew chief Kevin Harvick.
“It’s actually not 100 percent done, but I think everybody has a good idea what it is,” Childers said.
The flurry of activity for SHR comes as Mark Martin prepares to drive the No. 14 Chevrolet on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway as the latest replacement for Stewart. The three-time NASCAR champion is out for the rest of the season after breaking his leg in two places in an Aug. 5 sprint car crash in Iowa.
Zipadelli has spent the last 3 weeks lining up driver replacements – first was Max Papis at Watkins Glen, then Austin Dillon last week at Michigan – and a deal was worked out to get Martin freed from his commitments with MWR, where he shared a seat with Vickers, to replace Stewart everywhere except Talladega going forward.
That allows Zipadelli to concentrate on what has obviously become a very aggressive plan to turn SHR into a NASCAR powerhouse.
“We are looking to do whatever we can to make Stewart-Haas a better place to race, give our drivers better resources, crew chiefs,” Zipadelli said. “Our goal is to give our teams a better product to race every week going into Daytona. With four good drivers next year I think that it gives us that opportunity.
“Our owners are aggressive. It’s kind of exciting. It’s fun in a time where everybody is kind of going the other way, we’ve got owners that are committed to stepping up and hopefully making Stewart-Haas a bigger and better place in the future.”
The team committed last November to bring Kevin Harvick aboard in 2014, but Stewart said in July in releasing Ryan Newman they didn’t have the current capability to keep Newman and add Harvick. SHR had already expanded this season to three cars with the addition of Danica Patrick, and early season struggles across the board had led many to believe the team was suffering growing pains.
Now comes this chase of Busch, who has resurrected his career following his 2011 firing from Penske Racing. Driving for single-car team Furniture Row Racing, Busch is currently ninth in the standings and in line for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“Obviously, something’s changed,” Zipadelli said. “Gene Haas is our partner and started this many years ago. He’s always liked Kurt. We talked about Kurt last year, putting him in the 39 [driven by Newman]. Things just didn’t work out. It’s nothing Ryan did wrong. He’s done a great job. He’s a great guy, a heck of a driver.
“This kind of got sprung on us 14 days ago. Gene just showed some interest in having the ability to put something together. That’s really all it is. It’s something we’re working on. I don’t know if it all will come together.”