Stewart-Haas Racing expands to Xfinity Series
By AMANDA VINCENT
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team Stewart-Haas Racing, co-owned by three-time Sprint Cup championship driver Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, announced on Monday plans to expand its competitive efforts to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2017.
“In order to maintain the competitiveness that has earned SHR two championships since our debut in 2009, we need an outlet to develop drivers and team personnel for the Sprint Cup Series,” SHR Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli said. “People make the difference between winning and losing. An Xfinity Series team gives us added depth that will allow us to promote from within whenever necessary.”
Stewart-Haas Racing currently fields four Sprint Cup Series entries for co-owner Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. Both Stewart and Harvick have won championships for SHR, Stewart in 2011 and Harvick in 2014. Stewart will retire from full-time Sprint Cup competition at the end of the 2016 season.
“An Xfinity Series team has always been something we would consider when the time was right, and that time is now,” Stewart said. Staying successful in this sport means staying ahead of the curve, and having an Xfinity Series team provides and in-house driver development program and a new channel for personnel to make a positive impact with our race team.”
Other changes for SHR in 2017 will include a manufacturer change from Chevrolet to Ford. That manufacturer switch will result in the end of a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. Through that alliance, Stewart-Haas has been receiving cars from HMS. Stewart-Haas plans for next year include the construction of its own chassis.
Haas looks at the addition of an Xfinity Series program as another step in the progression toward self-sufficiency.
“This is a natural progression of SHR’s growth and one that allows us to be more self-sufficient,” Haas said. “If you look at all the teams that are successful in Sprint Cup, they have a direct connection to the Xfinity Series where drivers, engineers, mechanics and pit crew members are developed. We’re an established team with a strong infrastructure that is ready for this endeavor.”
Stewart-Haas Racing is not yet ready to announce a driver or driver line-up for its new Xfinity program for next year. Worth noting, though, Harvick races in the Xfinity Series part time for the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports, an opportunity that is expected to go away with SHR’s switch to Ford. Also, Cole Custer, the son of Stewart-Haas Racing Executive Vice President Joe Custer, is an up-and-coming NASCAR driver, currently racing in the Camping World Truck Series.