Stewart OK'd Kurt Busch's hiring — eventually
Gene Haas wanted to build a dream team, with an opportunity to see his name in Victory Lane. He wasn't going to let Tony Stewart stand in his way of making that happen. Haas admitted Tuesday he went rogue in courting Kurt Busch for a non-existent fourth team at Stewart-Haas Racing while Stewart was incapacitated with a broken leg earlier this month. When he finally brought his business partner up to speed on his expansion plans, Stewart balked.
But Haas forged ahead anyway with a multi-year offer to Busch, who was introduced Tuesday as the newest driver at SHR, where officials are now scrambling to make room at an organization that will double from two cars in 2012 to four next season.
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"I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did," Haas said. "But I think he saw it my way, you know? Either that or get out of the building."
Haas was laughing during two different recollections Tuesday of how he sidestepped Stewart during the lightning-fast courtship of Busch, which apparently began at a General Motors dinner in Indianapolis before the Brickyard in late July and ended last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway with Busch accepting Haas' offer.
But the message Haas delivered was very clear: Stewart, the three-time NASCAR champion, is the front man of the race team but Haas is still very much a player in the organization he founded in 2002.
Haas said getting his name on a car was his primary motivation.
"It was an opportunity for Haas Automation to be a primary sponsor. This is going to be my shot at being a primary sponsor, going to the Daytona 500, the Brickyard as the primary sponsor," he said. "Haas Automation has never been in the winner's circle, and I'm sure that's going to change next year. So that's my primary reason for basically pushing this expansion. It's been met with a little bit of resistance."
Stewart, who broke his leg in two places in an Aug. 5 sprint car crash, was not present for the hour-long news conference to introduce Busch. But in a statement issued by the team, he praised Busch's talent and seemed neutral in tone on expansion.
"When Gene Haas laid out his plans for what he wanted to do in regard to this race team's future, which included bringing Kurt on board in a fourth car, it was impressive," Stewart said. "You can't stand still in this business. You have to constantly improve. Gene's investment in this race team ensures the success of Stewart-Haas Racing for many years to come."
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli, who joked at one point he's built a rubber room at the shop to deal with the 2014 driver lineup of Stewart, Busch, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, tried to calm any misconception of a rift between co-owners by clarifying Stewart's position on expansion.
"Tony was very much in favor of the fourth team," Zipadelli said. "What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year, just so you don't read anything more into it. Tony was in the hospital. Tony didn't know the discussions that were going on. When we all met and talked about it and assured him we would do our best to make sure things didn't slip through the cracks, it took him a couple days to process it.
"But it's an opportunity of a lifetime for a race team to have a caliber of a driver like this. I know he's very excited about it now. But it's a little overwhelming when you're first hit with it."
Schnellenberger honorary captain for both teams in 1st Miami-FAU matchup
A case could be made that Miami and Florida Atlantic are football brothers. After all, the programs have the same father.
The Hurricanes and the Owls play Friday to open their seasons and pay tribute to former coach Howard Schnellenberger — who led Miami into the spotlight by winning the school's first national championship in 1983, 15 years before he began building Florida Atlantic's program from scratch. It's the first time the schools have met in football, and starts a three-game, four-year series.
"He's a man who owes me nothing but treats me with great respect and imparts great wisdom every time I see him," Miami Coach Al Golden said. "We're blessed to have him in our family. I know FAU probably feels the same way."
Schnellenberger, a former coach at Louisville at player at Kentucky, will be the honorary captain for both teams. Dozens of his former Miami players are expected to attend for a 30th anniversary celebration of the school's first title — a move Schnellenberger calls "putting the sugar on the cake of this game. ... It's a thrilling experience to see this series come to maturity now, come to pass."
■ Lorenzo Mauldin's availability for Sunday's season opener against Ohio will be determined following his release from the hospital after the Louisville defensive end was hit by a vehicle while riding his Moped on campus Tuesday morning. Considering the circumstances of the accident, Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong called it "good news" that the junior could be released as early as Wednesday.
Asked about Mauldin's status, Strong said, "that's going to be the doctor's call, that's not my call. We'll be able to get him back out here and then just see how it goes after tomorrow. ... It won't be a distraction because we have enough players ready to go play."
U.S. Open Tennis
Federer, Djokovic cruise in openers
Roger Federer easily won his delayed first match at the U.S. Open on Tuesday, also marking his first Grand Slam victory since losing in the second round at Wimbledon. Federer needed just 93 minutes to beat Grega Zemlja in straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 in a matchup postponed from Monday night because of rain. He had 12 aces and 35 winners and won 20 of 21 points at the net.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic saved seven of eight break points in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over former junior world No. 1, Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. The victory took only 82 minutes.
On a day that American men went 5-1, led by No. 13 John Isner and No. 26 Sam Querrey, a handful of seeded players made quick departures. No. 14 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, a semifinalist at Wimbledon last month, was the most surprising to go, although he was treated by a trainer for a painful back during a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 loss to 247th-ranked qualifier Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina.
On the women's side, fourth-seeded Sara Errani posted a "double bagel," beating Olivia Rogowska 6-0, 6-0 in 51 minutes. Seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova needed three sets and nearly two hours to beat 92nd-ranked Misaki Doi 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
UK rifle team No. 2 in pre-season poll
Kentucky's rifle team will start the upcoming season ranked No. 2 in the country for the second consecutive season. West Virginia is No. 1, while Alaska-Fairbanks, TCU and Army round out the top five.
■ Eastern Kentucky's men's cross country team was No. 11 in a pre-season national poll of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Colonels, ranked No. 1 in the Southeast Region, were the only Kentucky team to gain a national ranking. Oklahoma State was ranked No. 1, followed by Northern Arizona.
■ The Lexington Legends lost their series opener 6-2 against division-leader Augusta and the host GreenJackets' magic number to clinch the second-half title is two. Legends starter Daniel Stumpf (10-9, 3.03 ERA) gave up four earned runs on six hits and three walks in 42⁄3 innings. Stumpf had six strikeouts.
The last word
More from NASCAR team owner Gene Haas on hiring Kurt Busch despite co-owner Tony Stewart's concern that their team might be expanding too fast:
"Since it wasn't Tony's idea, he was taken aback a little bit by it. But I think he saw it wasn't a bad idea. In retrospect it looks like it's going to be a great idea. If we don't win any races next year, hey, I'm going to look like an idiot."