Thursday, December 01, 2011

Gene Haas' Gamble Is Set To Pay Off

Three years ago, Gene Haas’ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team was going nowhere, fast.

Utilizing a laundry list of drivers that included Jack Sprague, John Andretti, Ward Burton, Jason Leffler, Mike Bliss, Jeff Green, Johnny Sauter, Jeremy Mayfield, Max Papis, Tony Raines, Scott Riggs and Kenny Schrader, Haas CNC Racing went winless in 284 career Sprint Cup starts over seven seasons. In truth, they never came with a country mile of Victory Lane, managing just one Top-5 finish in that seven-year stretch and never finishing better than 21st in the championship standings.

Things hit rock bottom in 2008, when Haas went to prison after a conviction for income tax evasion. While behind bars, he made an unheard-of attempt to raise his struggling operation from the depths of NASCAR futility; offering two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart a 50% ownership stake to come and drive his race cars. People questioned Haas’ sanity at the time, saying that no team owner in the history of the sport had ever offered such a colossal signing bonus. When Stewart ultimately accepted the offer, folks questioned Smoke’s mental health, as well.

Just three years later, Gene Haas no longer appears to be in need of psychiatric attention. In fact, he may be the smartest man in the sport. Seven years of futility have given way to 13 Sprint Cup victories in the last three seasons, a breathtaking five-win Chase and Stewart’s third career Sprint Cup Series championship.

Earlier this year, Haas said he underestimated the difficulty of succeeding at the sport’s highest level. "When we first came to NASCAR, we had high expectations,” he said. “We thought we would be able to run with the big dogs, but it was a lot harder than we thought. Everyone has great equipment, and it was a tough nut to crack.”

Haas said he never truly expected Stewart to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to drive for his unproven, operation. "I thought Tony was a little crazy,” he said. “But he’s smarter than you think.”

Haas gives the credit for Stewart Haas Racing’s unlikely turnaround entirely to his partner, saying Stewart’s connections and relationships allowed the team to hire top-name mechanics and engineers. Chassis, engines and an existing technology partnership with Hendrick Motorsports elevated SHR to the ranks of Chase contenders, and Stewart’s indomitable will behind the wheel did the rest.

Tomorrow night, Gene Haas will sit in the audience at the Wynn Las Vegas, eschewing a place on stage beside his championship-winning partner in favor of a spot in the shadows. While Stewart accept the accolades, Haas will sit alongside more than 160 anonymous team employees he flew to Las Vegas to help celebrate the company’s first-ever NASCAR championship.

Not a bad way for a crazy man to spend the evening.


  1. Anonymous1:33 PM

    Tony stewart is the one that Gambled in my eyes.It appears if Tony was not get to 50% of team . /ene Hass would not get His bail money so to my eyes Tony by winning the Championship got his money that a statement.the team of Stewart Hass is now on even financial ground it will go either way. so now just sit back and watch. RA

  2. Anonymous3:06 PM

    I never lost Faith in Tony.. I knew he would do good. His decision on a new crew chief is good. listening to the driver/crew chat all season, i could hear the stuggles they were having. anyway, looking forward to the awards show. Tony really fought for this championship. and what a nice thing for Gene Hass to do, sit with his employees. class act
    just another humble opinion from,

    Lori in Colorado

  3. Anonymous5:16 PM

    wow the facts

  4. Anonymous6:58 PM

    A convicted felon as a partner, wow whoda thunk it? And the NASCAR community thinks the Busch brothers are evil incarnate because they use dirty words, and here we have a convicted felon, a tax cheat, as a partner in a race team.

    When NASCAR wants to make it to the big time next to the stick and ball sports, they'll figure out that felons can't own teams, and Viagra isn't advertised by the major leagues of any other sport. It astonishes me that the community isn't up in arms over these revelations, but I guess rich guys who cheat on their taxes are OK and drivers who talk dirty are unworthy...amazing.

  5. Anonymous9:01 PM

    Gene Haas obviously made some mistakes, which by all accounts, he paid for. It seems to me that Mr. Stewart could see beyond that in his acceptance to join Haas racing. Someone who is a supposed bad guy, doesn't pay to fly 160 people out to celebrate a NASCAR championship. To me it shows that Tony Stewart is a pretty good judge of people. Congrats to the whole Stewart-Haas Racing team, including Mr. Haas.

  6. Dwayne in Memphis7:26 AM

    Great article, Dave. A couple of comments about the comments, though.

    First, People are acting like Gene Haas' felony is breaking was very well publicized back when it happened. Dave mentioned it more as a "look how far he's come" point more than "hey! did y'all know Gene was in JAIL?!" Most NASCAR fans already heard that Gene had gone to prison back when Gene went to prison.

    Secondly, responding to the Viagra you WATCH football on Sundays? Every other commercial is for some sort of ED resolution product. Heck, it's the same way on Sportcenter for that matter. Pfizer hasn't been a team sponsor since 2005 - a full two years before it ended its sponsorship deal with MLB. And was outbid by competitor Levitra in 2003 - the only thing that stopped Viagra's NFL sponsorship starting in 2004.

    And lastly, the Busch brothers aren't demonized because they talk dirty. They're demonized for acting like 2nd-graders with no respect for anyone...not for talking dirty. Cursing wasn't Kurt's was cursing one of the most-respected media members in NASCAR because he had to wait for a television interview.

  7. Anonymous8:17 AM

    A felon as part owner of a professional team, hmmmm. The stick and ball sports allow felons to play, so I guess it's OK for NASCAR to welcome felons into the fold. They're just mirroring those sports they wish they could be when they grow up.

  8. Anonymous9:35 AM

    In response to the "Gene has paid for his mistakes" comments, and so should be forgiven, the Busch brothers paid for their mistakes, but aren't given the same consideration, and that's apparent here.

    Doug from NJ

  9. Anonymous11:31 AM

    wow, i mention the fact that rick hendrick is also a convicted felon and i got a stern warning from moody. i guess it is ok to mention haas is a felon but not hendrick. so i guess you could say tony is doing business with two convicted felons. but the pioneers of our sport were felons too as they ran the illegal booze across the mountains of nc and ga. so the fact that haas and hendrick are felons makes there legend bigger in the sport.

    this post will be deleted in 5, 4, 3...

  10. Joe (aka Anonymous), you just don't get it. It's a well-known fact that both Rick Hendrick and Gene Haas were once convicted of felonies. Despite what you seem to think, you are NOT the only person in possession of that particular piece of knowledge. In fact, we've all known about it for years. It was in the papers.

    It is also a well-known fact (though completely ignored by you) that Hendrick was pardoned many years ago. Both Hendrick and Haas served their debt to society long ago, and in the minds of most reasonable people are now free to continue on with their lives. IMO, both men have contributed much to their sport and their communities over the years.

    Perhaps it's time for you to stop beating the drum over what you seem to think is some colossal secret that only you know about, and move on.

  11. In associated news, it was announced today that Newman-Haas is pulling out of IRL racing, citing lack of sponsorship, despite having a not too bad year in 2011. Maybe they could take what sponsors they have and fund a 3d car for SHR. Maybe for Ragan, Reuti or someone else. Or fund a driver for Danicas' team in the races she doesn't run.

  12. Newman-Haas is a totally different operation, Jack. It's not even the same Haas!

  13. Anonymous3:02 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Your comments say more about you than they do anyone else, Joe. It's sad that you are ignorant to the many lives saved by the Hendrick Marrow Project, but not at all surprising. Continue to enjoy your ever-so-happy trip through life.

  15. Anonymous9:13 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Anonymous10:13 PM

    OK Anonymous Rick Hendrick hater, give it a break, you made your point, you hate Rick Hendrick, and know what, a pardon means he is P-A-R-D-O-N-E-D, look it up in the dictionary. And one last thing, Moody is smarter than all of us because it's his forum, and he can delete you like a bug with Raid but he gave you a platform, and he didn't make a fool of himself.

  17. Anonymous11:48 AM

    IMHO whomever the person is that is claiming RH faked leukemia, you should be ashamed of yourself. Do you have specific proof that it wasn't true? As for RH and/or CH being convicted felons, so what. They served their time and paid the price that was decided by whoever convicted them. While I have never been convicted of anything, it seems to me that the justice system works the way it does for a reason. Do the crime, do the time. Once its done, its done; with the exception of it staying with you forever. Besides, can anyone here including the uninformed, honestly say they have never fudged their income tax statement? Never? RH may be a convicted felon, but he has done more to help people than most. GH I would imagine looks at life completely different than he did before being locked up and should be applauded for the good things he has done, not grilled for his mistakes.

  18. Anonymous8:14 AM

    I just love a good flame war! Anyway, I think Haas showed a lot of class by taking care of his team, by letting Stewart get the accolades, and by giving us all a great show. Thank you, Mr. Haas. Now, back to the Moody-Anon battle of the half-wits . . .

  19. Hi, Dave. I knew that the Haas's were different people, but I guess I had a brain fart. In fact, I stood next to Carl Haas at a Champ Car race here in {Portland once. I don't know why that fact escaped me. Old age, maybe.

  20. I don't think it was much of a gamble at all for either partner. They both have legions of accountants to perform the due diligence, and they both have a track record of making smart decisions (with a few obvious exceptions.)
    In 2008 Forbes valued the team at $40m. Within a year or so the team value doubled, allowing Haas to recoup all of his investment AND obtain his goal of winning races. This was less of a gamble than it was a calculated move.

  21. The hypocrisy here is astounding. Haas plead guilty to a felony that imprisoned him for 16 months of a 2 year sentence. Look at the list of drivers, crew-chiefs and other crew that serve suspensions for violations of rules. Rules! Not laws.

    They evidently are just the hired help while people like Haas have millions to spread around, and NASCAR can't get enough millionaires so they have a different standard.

    He made the Stewart deal from Lompoc Federal Penitentiary!!