[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 1:42 p.m.
Ahhhh. I feel as if I must take a deep breath because I’m about to launch into some basic information about the way journalism works.
One of life’s great ironies is that, sometimes, if one really wants to tell the truth, he (or she) has to write fiction, which is one of the reasons I love writing novels.
The job of the journalist is to get as close to the truth as possible, based on what people say the truth is. Journalism seeks the finite portion of “the truth” that can be documented. “The truth” itself can be infinite, or pretty close to it.
What went on at Stewart-Haas Racing on Tuesday was interesting. I’m almost sure it’s more an acceptable version of the truth than the full story. That’s just the way the world works.
Let me lay it out this way.
A month or so back, Tony Stewart announced that Ryan Newman would not be back as driver of the team’s No. 39 Chevrolets, that Kevin Harvick would be joining it in 2014 and that Stewart, thought to be the guy who calls the shots, had no interest in expanding the team from three to four full-time entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Then Stewart got hurt. He was hospitalized after suffering serious leg injuries in a sprint-car (not Sprint Cup) crash. Austin Dillon drove the No. 14 once and will drive it once more. For the remainder, Mark Martin is competing in the team’s flagship entry, the one that carried Stewart to his third championship just two years ago.
Then word spread like a brush fire that Stewart-Haas was attempting to hire Kurt Busch away from Furniture Row. What? Where’s Tony? In the hospital!
Hiring the 2004 champion meant, (a.), that the situation had at least publicly been misrepresented to and regarding Newman, and, (b.), that the team would expand, after all.
I don’t doubt that Gene Haas initiated the successful pursuit of the older Busch brother. Haas gave Stewart half his team. As such, he remains the money man, and his influence is greater still because he happens to provide sponsorship, or at least funding, when no other is available, through the chief source of his wealth, Haas Automation.
I expect it went something like this. Haas asked Stewart what he would think of hiring Kurt Busch. Stewart said, great, but we don’t have a place for him. Haas said we’ll make a place for him. Stewart asked, what about Newman? Haas said Newman is old news.
In other words, I suspect it was less a Haas power play than a way to make everything as palatable as possible for the public taste.
In short, I tend to think Tuesday’s media conference was less a “tell it like it is” session, which is generally the way it is being portrayed, and more a case of all the parties getting their story together. What’s the use of hindsight if it can’t be used to advantage?
A better strategy than making Stewart out to be a liar was having Haas say, relax, I got this. I’ll take the blame.
Tony was miffed for a while. He didn’t like it at all, but then he thought about it and said, well, maybe this is for the best. Sorry about Newman. Gene just wanted a change.
The actual way Haas phrased it was, “I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did, but I think he saw it my way.” Appropriate pause for media chuckling. “Either that or get out of the building.” Out-and-out laughter, I suspect, as I wasn’t there.
Now, I don’t think this was entirely candid, either. “Get out of the building” is synonymous with “my way or the highway,” and I don’t think the highway was an option regarding the driver who came over, gallantly agreed to run the team in exchange for millions and millions of dollars, delivered a championship and otherwise put the team founded by Gene Haas on the map. The team appeared in 2002. Stewart joined it in 2009. Ninety-nine percent of its history came with Tony & Friends. It expanded to three teams this year and is maxing out next year at four.
The reason I don’t think it’s the whole story is that it never is. Give the braintrust at SHR glad hands all around. They spun a pleasing, colorful yarn that is as close to the truth as my former colleagues can document.
I’ve got no privileged information. This isn’t news. It’s opinion. It’s “perspective.” It’s a blog based not on being close to the current situation but on using the experience of 20 years watching these events transpire.
Okay. That’s taken care of. I’m going back to fiction.
As I almost always said while leaving NASCAR press boxes, thanks for putting up with me. Feel free to let me know what you think.