Four drivers with “Type A” personalities – some with previous bad-blood with each other – is presumed to be a recipe for disaster for Stewart-Haas Racing this season.
Instead, it might well be the secret to the organization’s success.
SHR expands from three to four Sprint Cup Series teams, with Danica Patrick and team co-owner Tony Stewart returning from last season and additions Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
The expansion alone – which didn’t materialize until late last season – likely was enough to strain the organization.
The combination of Patrick, who struggled through her rookie season, with three drivers known for run-ins with NASCAR – and sometimes with each other – has raised questions about the group’s ability to work together.
“I think what everyone is overlooking is we have four Alpha drivers here with Alpha personalities. The great thing is we have the advantage of understanding each other,” said Stewart, who has been cleared to race next month at Daytona International Speedway. Stewart broke two bones in his right leg in a wreck in a sprint car race last summer.
“I think we’re a great support system for each other,” he said. “Every one of us have had our battles with each other or with (the media) or whatever the group is. We all understand and can relate.
“That’s what teams in sports are all about.”
There’s no question the expansion to four cars has taxed the organization in its preparation for the new season. And Stewart, Harvick and Busch also are beginning the year with new crew chiefs, which sometimes can be a difficult transition.
Much of the concern over the changes, however, has been overshadowed by the excitement of Harvick and Busch over new career opportunities and Stewart’s eagerness to get back behind the wheel.
“One thing I’ve learned is that if you have cars that are fast, you don’t have a lot of arguments and all the things that go along with it,” said Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers. “They are for sure going to motivate each other and they already have. Kevin’s been on fire from the tests we’ve done and put the pressure on everybody, and not just his teammates.
“It’s a good thing. You look at Hendrick Motorsports and the caliber of drivers they have. They push each other every single weekend to be better.”
Of the SHR drivers, Harvick had the most successful 2013, winning four races and finishing third in the standings, tied for the best performance of his career.
Even though Harvick had spent his entire Cup career at Richard Childress Racing, he said he has looked forward to “a fresh start.”
“As I’ve gone through the process of getting this team together, I’ve tried to be involved in all of it and Rodney has been good at keeping me involved, whether it’s building a tool box or a race car,” Harvick said.
“I’m trying to help guide this ship, trying to be around and being pumped up to drive these race cars. I feel like it’s had a positive effect, and I’m glad they notice.”
In the end performance on the track will dictate the 2014 story of SHR. Stewart has maintained he believes he, Harvick and Busch can all make the Chase this season and he expects improvement from Patrick in her second season.
Whether those goals materialize largely could depend on how well the drivers, their teams and the organization’s support system at its Kannapolis headquarters can keep everyone on the same page.
“Since I’ve been there – and Tony has said the same thing – we’ve never seen such great chemistry with the guys spending time together and making us better as a whole rather than just themselves,” said Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director.
“As far as all the changes we’ve made, it may all blow up. But it has honestly been fun. It’s been exciting, extremely uplifting and motivating to see this all come together.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter