Ever since Tony Stewart and Gene Haas announced that, effective next year, Stewart-Haas Racing will be switching from bow ties to blue ovals, the brand loyal fan base of NASCAR has been extremely vocal. Twitter was clogged with enough fan’s opinions to make Tony Stewart, two days later, admit it bothered him in an interview at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s also worth mentioning that Harvick’s fans were just as, if not a tad more, vocal with criticism of the move. So is this the start of a decline in performance for SHR? The last time Ford won a title was in 2004 with Kurt Busch, who now drives for Stewart-Haas, during his time as pilot of the #97 Rousch Racing Ford. Yes, over a decade ago! Has Tony gone mad? Is Gene doing this to simply make more money to put into his F1 efforts while Ford has it on the table? What does this mean for Ford and their commitment to NASCAR? Hmmm, let’s lift the hood for an honest and fair look.
It’s fair to say we all questioned Tony when he decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to become a co-owner with Gene Haas and essentially an owner driver in late 2008. Owner drivers have been notorious for not reaching expectations a huge majority of the time. It seemed like we might have to sit through a year or two of growing pains before everything “clicked” or started “gelling” and we would see Stewart contend for wins. That wasn’t the case and I think we were all relieved. In the team’s first year both Stewart and Ryan Newman made The Chase and Tony won the All-Star race in Charlotte by making a classic “Smoke” like pass on Matt Kenseth with just a handful of laps left.
The first two seasons were highly competitive and it appeared Tony had picked up right where he left off in the #20 JGR Camry. In 2011 Tony went winless during the twenty six regular season races and quietly made the chase before winning exactly half of the chase races en route to his 3rd Cup in the closest championship ever. He tied in points with Carl Edwards with his Homestead finale win being the tie breaker. He had seemed to silence his critics from three years prior until the decision to release Ryan Newman was made. The NASCAR world was a buzz about Tony dumping Ryan even though both drivers seemed to be on the same page on and off track. His critics also chimed in regarding his decision to push Danica into a full time Cup schedule so early in her stock car career. Then Gene Haas signed Kurt Busch which sat wrong with many Ryan Newman fans after Newman was told there would be no seat for him. And of course when Harvick announced he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for SHR, the critics came out ten fold. But when the “smoke” cleared, two out of the four cars had wins, Danica sat on the pole for the Daytona 500 and Kevin won his first championship in convincing fashion while earning the company its second. And as we all know Kevin came up just one position short, to Kyle Busch, of pulling back-to-back titles in 2015.
Ford has made a commitment to the sport as well as Yates who supplies engines to its NASCAR teams. Ford has been involved with NASCAR since 1949 and was reportedly not happy with the results as of late. Ford acquired Team Penske from Dodge the year AFTER Brad Keselowski won his first Cup championship hoping to carry on that momentum but BK ended up 14th in points after his first year in a blue oval was all said and done. Last year it surely seemed all year long like they had one in the bag with Logano. He entered 2015 as the favorite for the Cup and backed all that talk up with a Daytona 500 win but an angry Matt Kenseth derailed those plans at the Martinsville Chase race by purposely punting Logano, the race leader, into the wall. Ford is itching for a title and willing to step up to the plate and swing for it. And swing for it they did by sealing the deal with Stewart-Haas.
I’d say as many times as Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing have pulled what seemed to be impossible off in front of our eyes, we should have no reason to doubt they will unload at Daytona in February of next year with some of the fastest pieces Ford has put on the track in years.