The Truth But Not the Whole Truth

Tony Stewart leads the pack at Michigan. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

Tony Stewart leads the pack at Michigan. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

[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.

The dean of Sprint Cup drivers, Mark Martin, is driving the No. 14 for most of the rest of the way. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

The dean of Sprint Cup drivers, Mark Martin, is driving the No. 14 for most of the rest of the way. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

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.

My, it seems such a long while since Ryan Newman kissed the bricks. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

My, it seems such a long while since Ryan Newman kissed the bricks. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

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.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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20 Responses to The Truth But Not the Whole Truth

  1. Al Torney says:

    So Mr. Haas is carrying on the France, Helton, Pemberton et al tradition of telling us something without telling us anything. I love it.

    It’s such a shame that SHR has the tie with HMS. We could have a true natural rivalry between the politically correct boys at Hendricks vs. the boys at SHR who no idea what the term means. The white hats vs. the black hats. Even Danica isn’t afraid to mix it up as you’ll recall she went after Dan Weldon over in the IRL.

  2. good perspective, I’m sure that you don’t deal in rumors, but I’ll throw one at you anyway, got it second-hand, actually third hand through a member of Tony’s team, that Smoke is hurt much worse than being reported, that he nearly lost his leg, that’s why no one’s seen him, unless of course maybe you have or at least talked to him, have you heard any of this, where is Tony?

  3. Cablegump says:

    My guess is that Mr. Hass wanted to get his company back on the side of a race car full time again. Like many sponsors he wanted to pick his driver and chose Mr. Busch.

  4. Haas found another kindred spirit in Kurt, just like Tony and Kevin and Danica.

    If they can’t take a joke, well then you know what.

  5. Ron Fleshman says:

    This is typical of NASCAR. The money men and corporations leave good people in their wake. Ryan Newman is good people and a helluva driver. I pray he doesn’t end up ar FRR. I want him to take Jack Roush’s offer to talk. But that’s not going to happen because the whole sport thinks that unless you’re associated with Hendrick, Chevrolet, or Gibbs, you’re not going to have a chance. They may be right, but I’d like to think they’re not. Sometimes, I’m an idiot, too.

  6. Tony Geinzer says:

    I’d prefer at least Ryan Newman or David Ragan, if not a David Reutimann would get a reputable Cup Ride next year along with Captain Burton or Bobby LaBonte.

  7. Russ Edwards says:

    Seems like a more plausible explanation, given the way things work in business. Lets face it, given his history I’m sure it suits Haas just fine to let Stewart be the “face” of the team.
    Question is going forward can they consistently get to, or pass, their technical partner HMS? Regardless of driver talent, cars only go as fast as the laws of physics allow.

  8. Monte says:

    I don’t think it’s possible to “pass” a team one relies on for equipment.

  9. Richard Rohrer says:

    Certainly has provided entertaining reading with my Cheerios. If the racing ain’t good, at least now we have the daily SHR soap opera. With the mix of characters, it can only get better.

  10. Monte says:

    I’m not close enough to the situation anymore to have any kind of privileged information. I think it’s safe to say that Tony is hurt rather badly. I expect he’ll be fine but it’s going to take a while.

  11. Louis Grant says:

    As first mentioned. There is no question that Stewart is hurt a lot worse then anyone knows. To say he almost lost his leg is more like the truth then fiction. Lots of people have broken their leg in this very manner and been out of the hospital in right after surgery. The fact that he has had multiple surgeries and has not been seen speaks volumes to whats really going on over there at SHR. No question in my mind that Gene Haas took one for the team by saying he did it all on his own, but don’t kid yourself. Multi million dollar business partners always are communicating. No body has more access to Tony then Gene. That is a fact. Personally, I love what they have done. I believe that Danica has no choice but to improve with three drivers like them, If she doesn’t then she will be gone after 2014, that’s a fact.

  12. Andy DeNardi says:

    Sure wish I had a hidden camera for the team meetings. All four of their drivers are irritable cusses and it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone in line. My recollection is that Busch and Harvick aren’t best buds and neither probably has a high opinion of Danica’s driving abilities.

    Harvick still hasn’t gotten a championship after many years on a team that had gotten seven for their previous driver. He expected he was going to a big man on the SHR campus. He could deal with working for a champion but now he’s got another he’s got to outperform another one in order to get some attention.

    Danica probably doesn’t care much. She’s bathing in cash and didn’t expect to conquer Rome in a day. Two or three more years on the circuit and then she can retire before her reputation is completely tarnished. She can probably pull off a restrictor plate win in that time. As a bonus, it’s very possible that she and Kurt run the 500 for a few years. She’ll have the superior position on that team.

    Meanwhile, Tony’s finding it difficult to get around and easier to sit on the couch and eat cheeseburgers. By Daytona he’ll have the physique of his hero AJ.

  13. Ron Widman says:

    I think Zippy will need a lot of help if not several RXs to get thru this it’ll be interesting to see who the last man standing is ? Newman @ Rouch ? He’ll be fast wherever he goes .I’d be surprised if the personalitys don’t clash ? Meanwhile it’s fun to watch & listen.

  14. dawg says:

    I’m certainly no fan of the brothers Busch, or of Haas. When he stole from the government, he stole from the taxpayers. Of whom I’m one in good standing. Sometimes a little too good, but I do pay them.
    I expect this latest couple of acquisitions will be more expensive than they’ve anticipated. They may have to greatly expand the facilities, just to house the egos involved.
    Can’t help but wonder if at some point next season, Ryan doesn’t start looking pretty good.

    The clear winner here is NASCAR, they’ve unexpectedly picked up another competitive team. With the current depth of fields, that’s no small thing.

    I expect the next silly season announcement, is that they’ve poached another high profile crew chief. Because as a businessman, Haas is all about ROI, & a top driver, & car, won’t give you that, W/O a top crew as well. As NASCAR has become more like F1, the races are being won in the pits, both with good calls & flawless execution.

  15. Russ Edwards says:

    Agreed. That was actually my point. Given that doesn’t it follow that the number of real competitive teams is 4? HMS, JGR, RFR, and RCR.
    And what does that bode for the future?

  16. LAR says:

    Tony’s dad raced our local racetrack last Friday. In a track interview he said Tony was approved to race after 5 months but that his leg would not be 100% back to normal for up to 2 full years. Definitely a very serious injury.

  17. Russ Edwards says:

    Sad to say but IMHO Danica has a limited time in big time sports. Not because of her driving ability, or lack thereof, but rather Father Time. Building a brand on photogenic s isn’t a long term deal. What happens when no one wants to see the picture of her in a bathing suit?

  18. Steve says:

    Wow Randy. You sure make alot of assumptions here and its obvious you have a dislike for Tony, so you lose a bunch of credibility with pretty much everything you stated, especially the cheeseburger comment. But I will take the bait and respond.

    If Harvick didn’t like Danica, why would he sign on with the team? He knew what he was getting himself into when he signed. I have heard him say positive things about Danica as well in the past. I’m sure Kurt and Kevin will work out their differences, just like many other drivers before them have done.

    Its going to kill you when this team starts to compete with Hendrick, isn’t it.

  19. Steve says:

    Poached? Just like Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, and Childress have done. It happens every season and Hendrick even does it to his own crews to help the 48 team win. Its apparent you don’t know much about the sport.

  20. Monte says:

    That’s just a damn shame. I’ve gone to NASCAR races since the 1960s, written about it for over 20 years, and still don’t know much. I guess I’ll just have to pay more attention. Thanks for letting me know.

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