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Stewart-Haas Racing proving doubters wrong with NASCAR Sprint Cup victories

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
481617159
Jeff Zelevansky - GETTY
Two of the season’s six NASCAR Sprint Cup race winners – Kevin Harvick at Phoenix and Kurt Busch, above, last weekend at Martinsville, Va. – come from the same organization, Stewart-Haas Racing.

Is it possible the NASCAR team many thought a tinderbox ready to explode instead might be the most successful in the Sprint Cup Series?

Through six races this season, that’s certainly the case.

Six drivers have won the first six races, but two winners – Kevin Harvick at Phoenix and Kurt Busch last weekend at Martinsville, Va. – come from the same organization, Stewart-Haas Racing.

The offseason additions of Harvick and Busch to join Danica Patrick and team co-owner Tony Stewart led to much speculation of potential personality conflicts, at least when it came to driver interaction.

While the expanded team has had some growing pains, it has managed to become the first organization likely to field more than one entry in the Chase.

“I feel great about Tony Stewart – he certainly has taken the team to a certain level. Now, it’s kind of like we are both working together and I think we make a good team to put a winning race team together,” said team co-owner Gene Haas, who decided to add a fourth team with Busch as its driver.

“We have two drivers that have won early in the season, so the choices that we made have worked. We have great people behind the teams and the cars.”

Stewart, who was recovering from a serious leg injury at the time Haas decided to expand, eventually got on board with the changes and during January testing predicted up to three of SHR’s teams could make the Chase this year.

His prediction already is two-thirds complete.

“I’m looking for wins. How we do in the points isn’t nearly as important,” Haas said. “You can look at the points, but if you are not winning, you are not going be there for the championship. I’m more concerned about running up front.

“That is when I think Kurt Busch and the rest of the drivers do really well at Stewart-Haas Racing. That is where I think the concentration is going to be at is winning races.”

With NASCAR’s new championship format, winning all but guarantees a chance to compete for the title, and SHR is the first team to have multiple shots at the sport’s biggest prize.

That SHR’s newest drivers have provided its first wins could bode well for even more success as the season goes along.

“You’ve just got to believe in the people that are around you, and I’m very thankful to have a chance to win (already) and to be in a good position for 2014 already with a race win and moving our way up through points,” Busch said Sunday.

“Now, our next objective is just to build more consistency.”

Consistency probably is the common problem SHR deals with this season. All four drivers at times have been all over the map in qualifying and race-day performance.

Should SHR solve, or at least get a serious handle on that issue, it could become even more dangerous, especially when the Chase begins during September.

“The funny thing about racing to me is when we put the pieces together, they can work,” Haas said.

“Sometimes being at the races is the tough part. Watching it all work – that is actually what I get a lot of enjoyment out of.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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