Call them the Scream Team, the most tempestuous, contentious collection of talent ever assembled under one roof in the Chase era. On Tuesday, Kurt Busch was formally introduced as the fourth member of Stewart-Haas Racing, where beginning in 2014 he'll join teammates Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. Without question, SHR's roiling sea of emotion will be the most intriguing team next season, because all four drivers have outsized personalities that can fill up a room—and hair-trigger tempers that at times can explode like grenades.
How will they mesh? I think just fine, because there is a clear leader (Stewart) who won't tolerate dysfunction. I also think SHR will now challenge Hendrick Motorsports for being the sport's elite team. On paper, at least, you'd think that three SHR drivers -- Stewart, Busch and Harvick -- should be locks to make the Chase next season.
Now let's drop the green flag on this week's mailbag.
Lars, I am a little confused. Kevin Harvick is coming to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Tony Stewart said he had to let Ryan Newman go because he can't handle a four-car team. Then he signs Kurt Busch to create a four-car team. Did Tony just not like Newman? Is Danica out in the future if she doesn't start being more competitive? Is Kurt bringing a lot of sponsorship money with him? And how much of an upgrade is Kurt over Ryan, given Kurt's propensity to blow up and act stupid both on and off the track? Inquiring minds want to know.
-- Michael, Plymouth, MI
Lots of good questions here, Michael. The decision to sign Busch was made by one person: Gene Haas. Perhaps this race team should be called Haas-Stewart Racing, because Stewart was basically blindsided by the news that Busch would be joining it. Haas Automation, which Haas owns, is sponsoring Busch's car next year, which will cost him in the neighborhood of $30 million. It's his money and, ultimately, his decision as to who pilots his car.
Stewart and Newman, from everything I know, are genuinely good friends. But Haas clearly feels that Busch is an upgrade over Newman, and it's hard to argue with that logic. Driving an underfunded car on a single-car team this season, Busch is on the threshold of qualifying for the Chase. If he does make the playoffs -- he's currently six points, or six positions on the track, out of 10th place in the standings -- he'd be the first driver to make it in on a single-car team.
Patrick will be at SHR as long as she wants to be there, no matter how competitive (or uncompetitive) she may be. She is gold when it comes to marketing, and can deliver something that's almost as important as wins: sponsors. And remember: she's only a rookie. I'm still sticking with my prediction that she'll win one race next year, perhaps the Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick has more starts than any other woman in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Which woman has the most starts in IndyCar Series history?
-- Chris, Latham, NY
That distinction belongs to Patrick, who has made 115 IndyCar starts. Sarah Fisher has made 83, and current Indy driver Simona De Silvestro has started 61 through last Sunday's Sonoma event.
I'm suggesting an elimination-style Chase. Have the worst finishing car each week be eliminated. That will leave three cars racing for the championship during the final race, and the highest finisher of the three wins it. No more points to settle the championship. Winning a race during the Chase gets you a one week exemption from elimination (the following race), except for the next-to-last week, where winning without having been previously eliminated just ensures that you are in the final race.
-- Tim, Malahat, BC
This is a wonderful idea, Tim. And under your scenario, guess who would have won the championship last season? Brad Keselowski.
What I'm hearing from readers and fans is that there is a growing demand to radically makeover the Chase to make it more compelling. Is NASCAR listening? Here's hoping so.
I'm a relatively new fan to NASCAR. I enjoy a lot of it, especially the short tracks. Here are some things that I would do to make NASCAR more enjoyable:
1) Get rid of qualifying and have drivers start in reverse order to the points standings.
2) Award more points to drivers who lead a lap. This would give more drivers an incentive to push earlier in the race, so they could at least walk away with bonus points for putting it on the line.
3) Bring in more manufacturers. I'd like to see a Nissan or Cadillac race.
4) Have different types of cars for different types of tracks. For the super speedways like Daytona, Michigan, or Pocono, let the teams use the current types of cars. But for the small tracks, let them use cars that more resemble show room vehicles.
5) Get rid of the road courses.
6) Race in Colorado. Racing at altitude would add another dimension not found at other tracks."
-- Reed, Lakewood, CO
I've written many times in this space that qualifying, for the most part, should be eliminated. I'd invert the field for the top 35 cars and then let the final eight positions be determined by qualifying speed.
Do you know when your article about short track racing will be coming out? I would look forward to reading a comprehensive article about the sport now that Tony Stewart has piqued my interest with all his additional racing.
-- Denise, Phoenix
The timetable for this story is still undetermined, but I've started the reporting and my hope is that this will turn out to be the most important motor sports story I've written in my 19 years at the magazine. If this piece doesn't deeply touch readers, I will have failed.
Thanks again for all the questions. Keep them coming. Our community here is growing.