Gene Haas keeping a NASCAR charter surprised many in the industry

Was this really some kind of disagreement with Tony Stewart?

NASCAR: Xfinity Series Championship
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

That Gene Haas ultimately decided to keep one NASCAR Cup Series charter and rebrand what is left of Stewart-Haas Racing as the Haas Factory Team kind of came as something of a shock to everyone in the industry.

There came a point where all the reporting pointed to the entire company being sold, and one of its two Mooresville, North Carolina shops being leased out to Front Row Motorsports, who purchased one of the three charters put on the market.

The other two charters are believed to have gone to Trackhouse Racing and 23XI, the latter of which is co-owned by Denny Hamlin, who says he wasn’t surprised they kept one of the charters because he is so deeply ingrained in this process.

“I don’t know why this became such a shock to everyone,” Hamlin said on his Actions Detrimental podcast this week. “There was kind of rumors of three charters being sold. And the fourth one, they didn’t know what they were going to do with.

“But I had heard for a while that they were going to keep one. I’m on the inside so it wasn’t a shock to me. But I guess to the outside, it was shock of oh wow, Gene Haas is going to stay in the Cup Series with one car. What the manufacturer is, is all TBD. Driver is TBD and what not, you’re going to assume it’s going to be Cole Custer.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick, who spent a decade at Stewart-Haas was surprised by it. He shared his thoughts on his Happy Hour YouTube show. He even wondered if there ultimately was a disagreement of some sort between Haas and former partner Tony Stewart.

“I think I should just put my notes on the table, because I have no idea what is happening here,” Harvick said. “Now I’m confused. Like, is there a spat? Is there something that happened with Gene and Tony? Was Tony just fed up, with not being able to do the things that he needed to do, from the competition side? Because think back to this. They tried to hire Kyle Larson. Tried to hire Kyle Busch. Both of those things got vetoed. One from Ford, and I don’t know the ins and outs of the whole Kyle Busch thing, but I don’t know. It’s very odd to me.

“I thought Front Row was going to move into the Haas shop, and now Haas is going to keep a charter, and two Xfinity teams. So it’s just really weird to me that it’s worked out this way, that Gene and Joe Custer are going to run — what’s it called, Factory Haas Racing? But I think when you look back at this whole thing, this is how Haas started. It was Gene Haas and Joe Custer, and they started up Haas, and they couldn’t — they didn’t run very well, so they brought in Tony Stewart, to bring in the notoriety, and the people, and the things that they needed to do to win a championship.

“Well, they brought in Tony Stewart, they won a championship. Tony brought all the people. Brought in myself and Rodney Childers. Won a championship. Brought in all the people. And now, it seems like, ‘Hey, we still want to race,’ and Tony was like, ‘Screw it, I’m out of here. I’m not going to race this way, with whatever’s happening,’ and moved on in life, and now they’re right back to where they started. So I think it’ll be very difficult for them to run this team competitively.”

Factory Haas will also continue to operate a two-car Xfinity Series program and all the satellite teams it has business relationships with. One of those cars is driven by Xfinity Series champion Cole Custer, the son of team executive Joe Custer, who is remaining at Factory Haas as team president.

The expectation across the industry is that the younger Custer will return to the Cup Series with Factory Haas.

“I would assume it’s Cole Custer simply with the relationship Gene Haas has with Joe Custer,” Hamlin added. “Which is Cole’s father, who essentially kind of runs Stewart-Haas now on the day-to-day. They’ve got a long-standing relationship there which is good. I think Cole has earned his right to if he gets the opportunity back in the Cup car. Think he has earned that right through performance. I think he’s your regular season point leader in Xfinity right now, he’s up front and solid every single week. And sometimes it’s good to get a reset. And I think Cole got that reset and is certainly warranted to be back in the Cup Series on Sunday.”

Ultimately, Harvick worries that a single car team, one that currently does not have a manufacturer affiliate, will be able to retain or attract good people and will struggle to compete for wins.

“Do you think they will be able to retain the good people?” Harvick said. “Because I don’t. I don’t think without a marquee name like Tony Stewart, or Danica Patrick or Ryan Newman or myself, whoever that is, I don’t see any route to retaining any of the good people. … But this is exactly how Haas Racing, when it started, this is the same way that it functioned when it started. Why would they be able to keep the good people now?”

Right now, the likes of Childers or even a Richard Boswell or Drew Blickensderfer will be in high demand.

“I don’t see that there’s any way that a Rodney Childers or somebody stays. I think there’s here’s too many unknowns,” said Harvick. “We’ve already gone through a whole process where they told everybody they were leaving the sport and now we’re like, ‘Uh, just kidding. Here we come, we’re back. We’re going to run a full-time Cup team and we’re going to rename the team.’

“So, either there was a disagreement with everything that happened or Tony just wanted out but I have a hard time believing that they’re going to be able to keep the key people around in order to be as competitive as they need to be to run up front.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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