Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Would Stewart-Haas Downsizing Be a Good Move?

Stewart-Haas Racing is rumored to be selling charters. Would it be a good move for the organization?

Austin Bass: Tony Stewart and Gene Haas are wealthy, successful businessmen who are racers at heart. What would be their motivation to dismantle the championship organization they’ve built together over the last 15 years? It’s not like they need the money. Haas CNC funded the team’s fourth car for Kurt Busch once upon a time. But are charters worth so much now that even they can’t refuse mafia-style offers? If legacy matters at all to either of them, SHR will remain a four-car team, and they’ll spend the rest of their lives working to catch and pass Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs. If anyone is selling charters, let it be Kaulig Racing. It seems like the only trophies it is hunting these days are the kind you receive just for showing up.

Andrew Stoddard: If true, selling a charter is the right move for SHR. With no NASCAR Cup Series wins since Kevin Harvick’s final win in August 2022, it is clear that SHR is spread too thin like a small piece of butter over a big slice of bread. It is looking at probably an eight-figure payout for one of its charters; for example, Live Fast Motorsports sold its charter to Spire Motorsports at the end of 2023 for the sizable price tag of $40 million. That amount of financing could go a long way towards helping SHR close the gap that has formed between it and the top-tier teams over the past couple of years. Now, which driver would be the odd one out if the charter is sold? My guess is Ryan Preece, and that the Haas sponsorship would move over to Noah Gragson.

Mark Kristl: In this era of money talks, it might help, but it certainly can’t hurt the team. Of its four drivers, Preece is the driver who hasn’t flashed the speed representative of SHR’s potential. Downsizing from four charters to three could help bolster the performance of the other three. Plus, with the lost funding of Busch Light, among a few other sponsors, SHR can devote more resources to the other three.

James Krause: It’d probably be for the best. The organization as a whole has fallen off little by little since joining Ford in 2017. Last year was the first season since Stewart took part ownership that it didn’t have a driver finish inside the top 10 in points. Without top billing in terms of factory support from Ford, lagging behind Chevrolet and Toyota, it doesn’t seem feasible to field four cars and expect all to be competitive. Even if it jumps manufacturers, it wouldn’t suddenly jump ahead in line past Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing. Pooling resources into three (or even two) teams is bound to yield better results, even if the crop of talent SHR has now doesn’t match what it’s had in previous years.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Is Josh Berry the Next Short-Track Ace?

Is 2024 Harrison Burton’s last season in the Wood Brothers No. 21?

Stoddard: Harrison Burton will be looking for a new ride in 2025. Even with his famous last name, Burton has just not proven that he is Cup Series material, with only four top 10s in 79 starts with Woods Brothers Racing since the beginning of the 2022 season. Burton’s dilemma brings to mind another Ford driver: Cole Custer. Custer had three seasons in the Cup Series with SHR, but outside of a dramatic 2020 win at Kentucky Speedway, he did not make the most of his opportunity. That led to a demotion to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023, which has worked out wonderfully for Custer, winning three races and the series championship. I could see Burton’s career following a similar trajectory. He might need to take a step back to truly move forward.

Bass: The Burton continuum in Cup will conclude at the end of this season. The Next Gen car and tire combo simply does not fit Burton’s talents and driving style. His measured, conservative, old school approach works well in the lower series but does not translate to success in this era of Cup racing. Driving the famed No. 21 doesn’t help his case, either. Aside from a few flashes of speed during the Ryan Blaney era, WBR has not been a threat to win in decades. Ford and Team Penske, with whom it is aligned for technical support, have also not met its own performance expectations every week during the time Burton has been in the Cup Series, which has further buried the second-generation driver in the standings. If he lands with a solid Xfinity or NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team, expect Burton to immediately return to winning form and contend for championships.

Krause: I believe so, unfortunately. In 80 career starts (congrats to him on his 81st coming up this weekend), Burton has one top-five finish. He’s finished on the lead lap in less than half of those starts. Burton, who hasn’t finished better than 27th in the standings in three seasons, is currently 34th. Part of that is the Wood Brothers backsliding with the introduction of the Next Gen car, but the most obvious way for a shakeup in its recent results is putting someone else behind the wheel. It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Burton, who would easily be a top choice for full-time rides in the Xfinity or Truck Series. As for the Wood Brothers, it’d probably take more than a new driver for another team renaissance it saw as a mid-field, competitive team with Blaney, Paul Menard and Matt DiBenedetto.

Kristl: Yes, it’s time for both parties to move on. WBR hasn’t improved during Burton’s tenure and he has backslid as a driver. Yet WBR has solid equipment and Burton was a good prospect when he joined the organization. The question then would be who should be his replacement. Riley Herbst is probably the top candidate, but he strikes me as a similar prospect as Burton a few years ago. So while a change is needed for the No. 21, there isn’t a shoo-in replacement.

Do you expect the Cup race at Martinsville Speedway to more closely resemble the race at Bristol Motor Speedway or Richmond Raceway?

Krause: Richmond. I can’t imagine the tires will wear to the same level they did at Bristol, but it goes beyond taking care of your rubber. Beyond a questionable restart jump, Richmond came down to a few key things. Taking care of your equipment, getting on the right strategy and knowing how to handle lapped traffic all feel like they fall in line more so at Martinsville, especially with how hard it seems to pass there.

Bass: As someone attending Martinsville this weekend as a fan, I am hoping for a race like we saw at BMS, but I’m expecting a parade like the one witnessed at Richmond. The Bristol tire anomaly is still not fully understood and the short track package was not used there, so to expect a similar race is setting the fans up for a major letdown. However, the turns at Martinsville are concrete, just as they are at Bristol, and the temperatures forecast for Sunday are similar to what they were on that unique day. One can only hope and pray for a similar outcome.

Kristl: With minimal banking, Martinsville will probably host a race reminiscent of Richmond Raceway, after drivers switched to slicks instead of wet weather tires. It’s unfortunate because Martinsville has been the site of some all-time classics, but the Next Gen hasn’t produced a great racing product. Bear in mind the Bristol event was exciting because of tire fall-off, not the racecar itself.

Stoddard: Martinsville will trend a little closer to the Bristol race than Richmond. The Paper Clip measures slightly over half-a-mile, about the same size as Bristol. Martinsville and Bristol also have similar reputations for tight, aggressive racing where drivers make frequent use of the chrome horn. It will all come down to the tire compound. If Goodyear brings a tire setup like Bristol with a bit more durability, we could be in for an exciting Sunday afternoon in southern Virginia.

Which short track driver should be next to make their NASCAR national series debut?

Kristl: Bubba Pollard‘s long-time challenger Stephen Nasse. Nasse has won numerous late model races, he’s usually a threat wherever he goes and he has the nickname Nasty Nasse. In a good truck, he would be one to watch in a Truck Series short track race. Nasse is only 28 years old, so any NASCAR success might garner him more opportunities than the 37-year-old Pollard.

Bass: Connor Hall is quickly becoming a household name for anyone who follows short track racing at the local or national level. Hall burst onto the scene last year by stringing together impressive double-digit winning streaks against tough competition at difficult racetracks, which led to a national title run. The reigning NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion has started 2024 right where he left off, already racking up nine victories this year so far. It is time to find out what he can do against stiffer competition.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including short track racing. Krause is a fan of football, auto racing, music, anime and video games.

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WD

WBR should have moved on this yr rather than renew with HB but his name and sponsorship he brings allowed him to remain

Bill B

If SHR is losing money because they don’t have enough sponsor money they should downsize.

Harrison Burton should be out. He has not gotten any better.

I expect the Martinsville race to suck, just like the races have since this current generation car was introduced.

Joshua

Do not downsize SHR. The Cup field already is too small as it is. Create more charters so new teams that may want to try to race, can. Stop having this formula-1 podium pace shit in stock car racing.

jim

For SHR maybe it is the Nascar politics and BS that goes along with it.

Echo

Tony and Gene. Take the money and walk away from the clown show. Sell all 4 and move on.

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