Haas thriving despite tumult

Staff Report - NASCAR Wire Service Wednesday, Mar 11 1698
It's been a good week for Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. His defending Sprint Cup champion driver Kevin Harvick spanked the field to win at Las Vegas on Sunday. That means the 2014 champion is already in the hunt to defend his title and return to Las Vegas for the season-ending banquet at the head table.

There were also signs the Stewart-Haas team's latest imbroglio  the suspension by NASCAR of Las Vegas native Kurt Busch  may end sooner than expected due to the Delaware attorney general's decision to not prosecute the driver on criminal charges related to a domestic violence complaint.

Haas' partner and driver Tony Stewart may have finished two laps down at Las Vegas, but that wasn't going to take the shine off Harvick's triumph. There was an easy explanation  one of Stewart's tires was knocked from his crewman's hands by another driver during a pit stop, which drew the standard NASCAR penalty for an errant tire and wheel on the pit road.

Nor will Danica Patrick's slow uptake on the new low downforce rules keep Haas up at night. It may even make it easier to sign her up for another three seasons during Patrick's contract year.

The fact the Ferrari F1 team  which will provide engines and technical support to Haas and his new team in the Formula 1 World Championship next season  was 2.5 seconds behind leader Mercedes in winter testing at Barcelona is not likely to have him holding his breath for more positive news, either. It's hard to argue against having a partnership with F1's longest standing and most hallowed team.

The daily woes of racing are relatively mild compared to what Haas has been through in the past 18 months, including Stewart's stint last summer as the suspect in a manslaughter investigation before he was exonerated of a young driver's tragic accidental death. At least three-time champion Stewart is back in the seat of his race car despite multiple surgeries to a leg broken in a sprint car accident in the summer of 2013. Just having

Stewart in the car is enough cause for celebration especially if "Smoke" runs all 36 races for the first time in three seasons.
Haas seems to thrive in a sport that depends on publicity, sponsorship, unpredictable incidents on and off the track, and always a whiff of danger.

"Dealing with those kind of things is just part of what it takes to be in this business," said the mogul behind Haas.

Automation, a world leader in computerized machining equipment, after Sunday's victory by Harvick. "Racing is an interesting business because you never know what's going to happen. You never know if you're going to win until the race is over, and I guess running a race shop is very similar to that. It's a challenge, and when things are thrown at us we just basically deal with it and try not to complain about it and do your best to get out of it."

Harvick, who lost last year's race in Las Vegas after leading 23 laps when a front wheel hub failed, nearly lost this one when a vibration related to tire wear came close to turning into deja vu rearview mirror. He held on to edge Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the tire blew up during his victory burnout.

Now Harvick has tied Jeff Gordon's 1996 streak of six consecutive races with finishes of first or second. For once, the intense, temperamental driver who has sarcastically been nicknamed "Happy" really appears to be enjoying himself.

"Any time you say Jeff Gordon in a streak, obviously things are going okay," said Harvick. He switched from the RCR team after the 2013 season upon deducing team owner Richard Childress's focus was on drivers and grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon. Veteran Ryan Newman, the driver who swapped places with Harvick and moved from Stewart-Haas to RCR, was on his rear bumper in Homestead, Fla., when Harvick clinched the championship on the final lap of last season. Had Newman been ahead, he would have won the title. So maybe RCR isn't totally dedicated to the next generation, but it appears Harvick made the right decision even if for the wrong reasons.

"I think for me, I'm just excited to be a part of this team," he said. "You have Gene and Tony who have put so much effort into everything that we do." Although he would not be described as a free spirit, Haas evidently is a bit of a free thinker as one might expect of a man who built his own full-scale wind tunnel near his NASCAR team shops and has decided to wade into the shark-infested, Machiavellian waters of F1 racing after winning two Sprint Cup championships, the first with Stewart in 2011.

"Gene allows all of us, our crew chiefs to do things in their own ways," said Harvick of the four-car team, which now includes Regan Smith as the interim driver for Busch. "You can be creative," he said.

The "creative" part applies to car development, which this winter meant cutting the bodies off of seven of Harvick's championship-winning cars from last year to start over on the new 2015 rules. But when it comes to racing, it's a matter of execution, the flip side of thinking outside the box.

"One thing about winning these races is that you have to have consistency," said Haas. "You can't make mistakes, and you pay dearly when you have any kind of a penalty or a pit road puts you in the back, and sometimes it's almost impossible to get out of it. Sometimes I think that's the sign of a true championship team is they do things so smoothly and execute so well that they make it look easy to win these races. Quite frankly that's really not true. Anything goes wrong you can be put right to the back."

Haas, who gets his engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports, is more of a hands-off owner other than his "just win, baby!" attitude. (Last year, he promised Busch a test drive in the new F1 car if Busch won the Chase.)

With a net worth is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $750 million, Haas does his best to supply each of his drivers and crew chiefs with the necessary components to compete in the Sprint Cup. After that, it's down to execution.

"When they do win and make it look easy, you kind of scratch your head, Well, how can they do that?'" Haas said of the crew at the No. 4 Chevy. "But that takes tremendous amounts of preparation, it takes training, it takes picking the right crew people, it takes so many little things to make it look that easy, but that's what they do."

Apparently, the leader in automated machining also has a handle on human systems.