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Toby's Take: When One Door Closes, Another Opens

Stewart-Haas Racing announced that it will close its NASCAR program at season's end, and while it's a sad end for a once-powerhouse team, it's even more sad for the employees of the team.


hero image for Toby's Take: When One Door Closes, Another Opens

While the rumors persisted for years that the end was near for Stewart-Haas Racing, it had truly begun to feel more and more like the zany street corner prognasticator was firing up the old faithful 'SHR is dying' rumor every season than anything that held any truth.

However, this time around, the rumors had much more substance to them, and unfortunately, the rumors of Stewart-Haas Racing's demise finally proved to be fact. Tuesday's official announcement that the team will shutter its NASCAR program following the 2024 season was a very sad refrain.

A once proud championship-winning team, which appeared to have righted the ship this season after a couple of years in the doldrums of the NASCAR Cup Series, will be no more. And the NASCAR Cup Series race team ownership circle will be without Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning driver, and Gene Haas, who brought Haas CNC Racing to the NASCAR Cup Series part-time in 2002, before elevating the program to full-time for the 2004 season.

The fact that Stewart-Haas Racing was ever even a thing to begin with, let alone went on to become a powerhouse organization in the sport, is nothing short of astonishing.

With his NASCAR program floundering, Haas did the unthinkable heading into the 2009 season as he lured Stewart, one of the sport's top drivers and a generational talent, away from Joe Gibbs Racing. How did Haas pull that off? Haas enticed Stewart with something Gibbs couldn't offer; ownership in his race team.

Stewart, a racer through and through, couldn't pass on that kind of an offer even if it was with Haas, who had a less than stellar record in the NASCAR Cup Series at the time.

With Stewart under the banner, the team was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing, and immediately, the team began taking shape from being an afterthought to being formidable.

Stewart began luring talented people for the positions on the race team, including Ryan Newman, who would serve as his teammate in the organization's second car.

While many expected them to start off sluggish, along with his new teammate Newman, Stewart and the SHR team opened eyes immediately.

Both drivers made it into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in that opening season, and Stewart amassed four victories on his path to a sixth-place finish in the championship standings. A couple of seasons later, Stewart was a champion at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The foundation was officially laid, and for quite some time the foundation showed no signs of cracks.

As SHR continued to blossom into one of the brightest teams in the sport in the 2010s, the team had some very notable names join their stable including Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick.

Harvick joined the organization at the end of the 2013 season, and in 2014, his first year with SHR, Harvick scored the team's second NASCAR Cup Series championship title.

It was a magical run, and it appeared that the SHR team would be a fixture in the NASCAR Cup Series garage forever. But as we know all too well in NASCAR, forever is a very hard thing to come by.

Just four seasons after Harvick led the NASCAR Cup Series with nine wins in 2020, the team is now marching toward the end of its tenure in the Cup Series garage.

It's a sad end for the race team, but it's an even more sad ending for the hundreds of employees that call Stewart-Haas Racing home. But while it is sad, the departure of SHR signals opportunity for each of these talented individuals.

In NASCAR, the mindset has always been when one door closes, another seemingly opens.

Charles Krall, the current Manager of Commucations at ARCA, has a lineage like few other in the sport. His family owned the DiGard Racing team, and in 1987 that once powerhouse organization shut its doors. Unlike SHR's announcement, that team had no big declaration of the end.

The DiGard team assets were sold to Bob Whitcomb heading into the 1988 season, and in 1990 Whitcomb's team would go on to win the Daytona 500 with Derrike Cope behind the wheel.

As Semisonic explained in their iconic 1998 song Closing Time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

While new doors weren't guaranteed back in the day, they are these days with the current Charter System as 36 cars are required to start each event. So, while four cars will be exiting the sport from Stewart-Haas Racing, they will be entering again from somewhere else.

A more modern version of the DiGard story is the story of Furniture Row Racing, which won the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship with Martin Truex Jr. While that team closed its doors at the end of the 2018 season, it sold one of its two Charters to Spire Motorsports in 2017.

A few short years later, Spire is now a blossoming team, which holds three team charters in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks, and fields a successful NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program, which acquired Kyle Busch Motorsports at the end of last season.

Just because it's the end for one team, doesn't mean that's where the story truly ends.

Front Row Motorsports, which announced the acquisition of a third team charter a day after Stewart-Haas Racing announced their plans to close down at season's end, could provide a landing place for some of these folks that are facing unemployment with SHR's exit.

And whoever acquires Charters between now and the start of the 2025 season will also need some help as well.

The waters seem rough, and I'm sure it's a scary situation for all involved, but there will always be opportunity in this sport for talented individuals and there are some supremely talented folks within the walls of Stewart-Haas Racing. They just have to find their new beginning from their current beginning's end.

Photo Credit: Craig White, TobyChristie.com

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