Kurt Busch signing signals changing of the guard at Stewart-Haas Racing

John Harrelson

To the chagrin of Tony Stewart, Gene Haas doggedly pursued and signed Kurt Busch to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

A new face of Stewart-Haas Racing emerged during the news conference Tuesday to announce the signing of Kurt Busch to a multiyear contract. And it wasn't the former NASCAR champion who took center stage during the hour-long presser.

Nor was it Tony Stewart, still laid up with a broken leg.

Instead it was co-owner Gene Haas, who left no doubt Tuesday that the move to expand SHR from three teams to four was solely his idea because he wanted to bring Busch into the fold.

The push to sign Busch began four weeks ago during a dinner hosted by General Motors when Haas initiated talks with the 2004 Cup champion. And when Stewart broke his leg Aug. 5 in a sprint car crash Haas continued his pursuit of Busch.

All this was in spite of Stewart stating publically that SHR would not expand and how that was the driving factor behind the jettisoning of Ryan Newman to clear the way for Kevin Harvick, who will join the team next season.

"I didn't have really a chance to talk to Tony about it at all since he wasn't really talking to anybody," Haas said. "So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tich there. I'm not used to having too many authorities to work with; I've been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it."

When finally told of the expansion plans Stewart was a "little upset" said Haas, who also acknowledged that he "bent a few rules" in his quest to sign Busch. Stewart even told his partner that he wasn't against the idea of adding a fourth car but to wait until the infrastructure was in place at SHR to house four teams.

"I think (Stewart) actually said, ‘You need to wait a while (to add a fourth team),' " Haas said. "I kind of made an offer to Kurt here, I don't know if he's going to take it or not, and if he takes it, I'm not backing down. That's where we were."

And so it was only fitting one half of the SHR ownership group went rogue to sign a driver nicknamed the "Outlaw."

"I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did," Haas said. Then, laughing, he added, "But I think he saw it my way, you know. Either that or get out of the building."

To accommodate a fourth car SHR is hastily clearing space and preparing to construct a new building, using Hendrick Motorsports as a model on how to run four fully functional teams.

Logistics aside, the decision to sign Busch on the surface is a no-brainer for an upper-echelon team like SHR. The winner of 24 Cup races is undeniably one of the sport's premiere drivers, as evidenced by the fact he has taken single-car Furniture Row Racing to the brink of a Chase berth.

But how will the mercurial driver fit in at a team that already employs a healthy set of egos in Stewart, Danica Patrick and the soon-arriving Harvick? SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli joked that a rubber room had been built for the team's Monday meetings.

One benefit is that Busch will be sponsored by Haas' self-owned company Haas Automation. As such, he won't be beholden to the normal sponsorship obligations he admittedly has struggled with previously.

And the opportunity to drive cars and engines supplied by Hendrick should instantly make Busch competitive, which should assuage any qualms about whether he has the resources behind him to win races -- an issue he's faced this season at Furniture Row and last year at Phoenix Racing.

But the overriding question is now that Haas has asserted his power, what are the consequences for SHR?

"I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did" -- Gene Haas

Although Stewart is now on board with signing Busch, it's easy to wonder if he has any misgivings with how the courtship played out. He wasn't consulted initially and when informed of the proceedings he advised against moving ahead.

And yet despite his reluctance Haas couldn't be dissuaded. A fact he seemed to relish as he spoke about how the process unfolded while ostensibly recognizing that a changing of the guard had occurred.

"I think the most interesting thing was the fact that Kurt Busch and Haas Automation coming together was really done by me," Haas said. "I guess that is different than what you've seen in the past. In that respect, yes, there's going to be new dynamics.

"My main goal here is to win races. I think Tony's main goal is not only to win races but to run a successful business. I'm more interested in seeing the winning part of it. Maybe Tony is going to be more the businessman now."

It might to take more than a rubber room for SHR to navigate the troubled waters that have seemingly been created.

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