NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing braces for season of change – Charlotte Observer

A season of transition is just beginning at NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing.

There’s change at the top, where Tony Stewart has retired as a Cup driver. He will now devote all – or at least most – of his energy into his duties as a co-owner of the Kannapolis-based team.

In Stewart’s carbon fiber-built seat in the No. 14 car is Cup veteran Clint Bowyer, who is coming off a tumultuous season-in-waiting at HScott Motorsports.

Then there’s an even more fundamental difference: SHR is switching manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford.

“The speed at which (SHR) is getting things done is impressive,” Dave Pericak, Ford Performance’s global director, said Wednesday at Ford’s technical center in Concord.

Our organization is one of the few that can do this. Tony Stewart

With the season-opening Daytona 500 now just about a month away, everything that goes into making such a change – new chassis, engines … new everything – is that much more accelerated.

“Our organization is one of the few that can do this,” said Stewart, who won three Cup championships over an 18-year NASCAR career, but who has said he will drive in several dirt track races over the next several months. “We were prepared for this.”

Bowyer is joined on SHR’s roster by returning drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. Bowyer, who was named Stewart’s replacement in 2015, had a dreary one-season stint with HScott Motorsports in 2016, failing to win a race and recording just three top-10 finishes. He also recently settled a lawsuit with HScott over an alleged failure to make payments.

Stewart said the decision to switch brands wasn’t easy after Ford approached him and SHR co-owner Gene Haas. As a driver, Stewart had always driven a Chevy or in other General Motors equipment.

“This took well over six months to make the decision and to make the change,” Stewart said. “There were a lot of questions and a lot of answers, sitting down and evaluating if this is the right thing for the company. And it truly is.”

Clint Bowyer joins Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick on SHR’s four-driver roster.

With Richard Petty Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing recently announcing reductions to their teams, adding SHR gives Ford a major boost in its Cup presence. Two-car Team Penske – featuring stars Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski – and Wood Brothers Racing with Ryan Blaney are Ford’s other prominent teams.

And, obviously, it also significantly trims the roster of Chevy, which lost Furniture Row Racing to Toyota after the 2015 season. Chevy still backs powerhouse teams at Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

“We think with the quality of drivers and teams we have now, we can really compete well across the board at the Cup level,” Pericak said.

Becoming quickly successful after switching manufacturers isn’t unprecedented. Martin Truex Jr. won four races for Furniture Row in 2016 and made the Chase in the team’s new Toyota.

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