Stewart, Harvick discuss season progression

John K. Harrelson/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

When Stewart-Haas Racing announced at the beginning of 2016 that they would be joining the Ford Performance camp in 2017 after being branded with Chevrolet, the heads began to turn that the move would become a big risk.

It was a risk that Tony Stewart and Gene Haas were willing to take. Although the risks were huge for the organization, the rewards outweighed the risks.

“Even we said it was a big risk.  At the same time when we were looking and assessing whether it was the right thing to do, we said there’s huge opportunities to be big rewards with it as well,” said Tony Stewart.

Stewart believes that Stewart-Haas Racing fit in well with the Ford Performance program from the get go. While grateful for their relationship with Chevrolet, Stewart was appreciative with how well the people of Ford made the transition.

“I think something that’s been really encouraging from day one is how much we kind of fit their program right off the bat.  We had a great relationship with Chevy for all those years.  We still feel like personnel‑wise there’s a lot of people that still feel like family there. To start working with a group of people that we didn’t know very well, didn’t know at all, how quickly and easily the Ford people made us feel like we were part of their family right off the bat.  I think it made that transition even easier for us,” said Stewart.

From the beginning of the year, Kevin Harvick was pretty open-minded going into the 2017 season, knowing that there could be some struggles in the first year with the transition. However, the biggest goal was motivating the people at the shop who work on the car.

“I think when you look, the most important thing is try to figure out how to motivate your people, keep them all together, really be thorough in the direction from a driver’s standpoint in the things that you tell them, in the things that you push for, to make sure that they’re right,” said Harvick.

The transition to Ford came with a huge workload for the four-car organization, but the team persevered. By the middle of the season, Stewart-Haas Racing was able to find a direction on things. However, the research and development of the projects usually does not match the production of things.

“I think in the middle of the year, we had a direction on a lot of things, but the R&D sometimes surpasses the production of things.  Once they really started finding the things that were working and areas to work on, kind of the hot buttons of the car, then you got to get them put into place.  Easy to draw them on the computer, take them to the wind tunnel, how you have to put them in production.” said Harvick.

Because of the delay in production compared to the research and development side, the team had to cut car bodies and other things off that were “brand-new”, which turned out bad for morale. However, Harvick applauded the work of Greg Zipadelli in finding the right balance.

“It’s a balancing act of how fast you get there.  When you look at it, Zipadelli has done a great job of listening to the crew chiefs, everybody talking about the things they have going on, the things they want to change, how do you implement that from a production standpoint,” said Harvick.

Although their first year as been full of growing pains, Stewart is excited about the program with Ford.

“I’m really excited about the program we’re on, working with the people we’re working with at Ford.  Looking forward to seeing what we can do in two weeks and hopefully getting them another championship,” said Stewart.

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