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SAXTON: SHR ending this year

The quick demise of Stewart-Haas Racing matches its unexpected meteoric rise into one of NASCAR Cup’s most successful organizations – but both appear the result of the willingness of its owners to invest the time and money to do it.

Motorsports journalist Jim Utter tells us that on May 28, co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart issued a joint statement announcing the closure of SHR at the conclusion of the 2024 NASCAR season. That involves four full-time Cup Series teams and a pair of full-time Xfinity teams (although they are expected to continue in a different form in 2025).

“The commitment needed to extract maximum performance while providing sustainability is incredibly demanding, and we’ve reached a point in our respective personal and business lives where it’s time to pass the torch,” the statement said in part.

With the retirement of SHR veterans Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola at the end of the 2023 season and SHR’s deal with Ford Performance entering its last year with no renewal in sight, the organization’s viable future was already a hot topic of discussion entering this season.

Utter continues still, the finality of the decision seemed jarring – and with it left many questions, the exact answers to which may never truly be known.

Even with SHR’s future announced, its present situation comes with a difficult road ahead for its drivers and employees as they try to finish out the year while at the same time working to secure new homes for the future.

The signs were clear that the end was coming for SHR, but the reasons behind it were much cloudier.

The unusual pairing

The idea of Stewart, then a two-time Cup champion driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, sharing ownership in a Cup team with billionaire machine-tool businessman Haas, seemed to come out of nowhere in 2008.

Haas had owned a two-car Cup operation called Haas CNC Racing that had a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, but it never had attracted top-level drivers or been able to win on a consistent basis.

Stewart, a hard-nosed driver prone to controversy off the track, had burst into NASCAR with Joe Gibbs Racing straight from the IndyCar Series with great success in 1999.

The two seemed an unlikely pairing but Stewart provided what Haas needed most – a reason for the best in NASCAR to want to work with his racing team – and Stewart would have the opportunity for autonomy in the decisions that would forge his NASCAR future.

Haas was willing to invest the money – both in people and equipment – to win and Stewart’s commitment to excellence would help attract sponsors and some of the best talent in the NASCAR garage.

To kick off the 2009 season, the newly named SHR fielded a pair of full-time Chevrolet Cup teams with Stewart driving the No. 14 and Ryan Newman – who had enjoyed a successful career at Team Penske – in the No. 39.

The new organization flexed its muscle quickly with Stewart winning four times in his first season as a team co-owner. He then captured his third Cup title two years later, winning the 2011 championship in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards, which cemented SHR as a big-league player in the sport.

By 2013, SHR added a third Cup team with former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, who became the first woman to win a pole position for the Daytona 500. The rapid expansion continued, enticing Harvick to leave Richard Childress Racing to replace Newman before Haas went out on his own and hired Kurt Busch to create a new fourth team in 2014.

Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers flourished from the start in their initial season together, winning five times and capturing the series title – and SHR’s second in just six years.

Even when Stewart decided to retire as a full-time Cup driver following the 2016 season and Haas entered Formula 1 with a two-car operation, SHR seemed to maintain its standard of excellence, both on the track and in attracting quality drivers and sponsors.

In 2017, Busch provided the organization with its first Daytona 500 victory. By 2020, SHR had moved from Chevrolet to Ford and quickly established itself as one of the manufacturer’s top NASCAR programs.

SHR collected 26 victories over the course of the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons and it had all four of its drivers qualify for the Cup playoffs in 2020.

But just as SHR had established itself as one of NASCAR’s elites, its luster started to fade according to Utter.

With the decline in performance came also a noticeable lack of involvement – at least publicly – by both Haas and Stewart in the SHR organization, both at the track and the race shop.

Haas seemed far more interested in his F1 operation but also has battled a serious health issue over the last couple years. In addition to his sprint car team, Stewart now owns an NHRA team, which includes his wife, Leah Pruett, as a Top Fuel driver.

Earlier this year, Stewart announced he would compete full-time this season in NHRA in place of his wife as the couple planned to start a family.

By this season, SHR – once a dominant force filled with consistent winners – was fielding four Cup teams with drivers holding a collective one series win. The retirement of Harvick and Almirola also saw the departure of longtime sponsors Busch Beer and Smithfield Foods.

It was by no means a stretch of the imagination to say SHR was in trouble, but more troubling was the apparent lack of effort – or perhaps interest – in saving it.

Where do they go?

Once the joint statement was issued by Stewart and Haas on May 28, and meetings held at the race shop the same day, hundreds of employees and four Cup drivers – Chase Briscoe, Ryan Preece, Noah Gragson and Josh Berry – suddenly had an uncertain NASCAR future.

Some of the organization’s top engineers and pit crew members had seen the writing on the wall and left over the last year for other teams.

Those that remained, however, now face a seemingly impossible task – finish out the 2024 season while at the same time trying to lock down positions for the future.

While Stewart never held any ownership role in the F1 organization, its future should be unaffected by the closure of SHR and its NASCAR operations. Haas, alone, has run that racing program and will decide its fate.

For those at SHR, the drivers will likely find it easier to continue to their careers. Briscoe has been mentioned as a likely replacement at JGR for Martin Truex Jr., who recently confirmed his retirement at season’s end.

Berry has been mentioned as a possible addition at Front Row Motorsports. Gragson and Preece face more uncertain futures.

“Every other team that we’re racing against, all they focus on week-in and week-out is how to make their race car go fast that weekend,” Briscoe said.

“At our place, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to provide for our families next year, where we’re going to work next year, and on top of all that, how am I going to get a fast race car to the race track.”

Major charity ride

Now if I could get my friend Harry Turner in Ambler to show me how to ride a motorcycle perhaps I could go on the ride.

Just five years ago, who could have envisioned such a scenario? The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America today announced it raised nearly $1.8 million after completing its 28th Anniversary Ride, which took place May 4–10. Funds raised directly benefit Victory Junction – a camp in Randleman, North Carolina servicing children with chronic medical illnesses. The Ride’s donation supports summer camperships, building projects and maintenance programs – including the building and maintenance of the brand new Kyle Petty Charity Ride Water Park.

Former NASCAR driver and racing analyst Kyle Petty led 150 motorcycles across nine states on a seven-day trek, covering more than 2,100 miles and stopping at iconic American landmarks along the way. The Ride began in Deadwood, South Dakota and ended in Greensboro, North Carolina.

All along the Ride’s 2024 route, fans came from miles around to welcome the Ride, meet celebrity riders and support the cause. Highlights included seeing Mount Rushmore National Monument, stopping at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, exploring Churchill Downs – home of the Kentucky Derby, touring the legendary National Corvette Museum, visiting Bristol Motor Speedway, ending with a finale celebration at Victory Junction and so much more.

Victory Junction has served as the Ride’s primary beneficiary since its establishment by Petty and his family in 2004 in honor of his late son, Adam. Since it first began in 1995, the Ride has raised more than $22 million for Victory Junction and other children’s charities. As a result, the Ride has helped Victory Junction mobilize resources to provide over 125,000 camp experiences for children of all levels of abilities who are living with complex medical conditions at no cost to their families.

Funds were gathered from fans along the route, as part of the Ride’s “Small Change. Big Impact.” program, as well as donations made by generous sponsors, organizations, and the riders themselves.

The 2024 Ride is made possible by presenting sponsor Cox Automotive, as well as Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Dodge Law, Racing Electronics, WinCraft Racing, Petty Family Foundation, Piedmont Moving Systems, Wiley X, Prevost, Blue-Emu, Goody’s and Kelderman Manufacturing.

This year’s Ride also featured several celebrity riders, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Hershel McGriff; NASCAR Cup Champion Joey Logano; former NASCAR drivers Max Papis, David Ragan, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace and Mike Wallace; former NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker; and TV personalities Rick Allen and Rutledge Wood.

More on ’90s Night

A special night of racing in which race fans will be able to take a trip down memory lane on Saturday, when Grandview Speedway presents 90’s night, which was a huge hit last season.

The highlight of the night will be the roll back of the grandstand admission to 1990’s pricing, as fans will pay just $10 for a complete night of NASCAR Modified and Sportsman competition.

Fans are encouraged to wear 1990’s style clothes (if they still have them) or 1990’s era driver t-shirts for what surely will be an entertaining evening of fun, excitement, and great racing competition on the one-third-of-a-mile high-banked speedway.

Ernie Saxton is an auto racing contributor for MediaNews Group. He co-founded the Eastern Motorsports Press Association, served as public relations director for Grandview Speedway for 47 years, and is in multiple halls of fame for his promotion and journalism related to the sport. He has announced races at more than 100 tracks, and he is the only person to have announced a race at Madison Square Garden. Email him at ESaxton144@aol.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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