LAS VEGAS — Stewart-Haas Racing owner Gene Haas said Sunday that the team continues to search for a driver for the No. 41 car and that he does not view moving up SHR Xfinity driver Cole Custer as a viable option at this time.
Haas said the team is not ready to sign any driver.
“We haven’t seen anybody that’s intrigued us enough to say, ‘OK we’re willing to sign you at the moment,’ ” Haas said before Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “We’re kind of hoping there is an undertow … where a driver or a sponsor, maybe that combination that didn’t exist a few weeks ago, maybe they come together and it’s something we can look at. But at the moment we don’t really have anything.
“As far as we know, Kurt Busch has signed up with Chip Ganassi. That’s the rumors we hear. But he hasn’t announced it yet, either. I think the only thing I’ve heard from him is he hasn’t signed anything.
“I think he’s out looking around and see what kind of a deal he can put together. I assume it’s over at Chip Ganassi Racing.”
It was Haas who expanded the organization to create room for Busch for the 2014 season. Busch has won six races for the team since joining it but has never finished better than seventh in the playoffs.
Still, could Busch find a way back to the No. 41 team?
“If he gets on a tear and wins five races and goes on to win the championship, we definitely would talk to him,” Haas quipped.
“That’s why we signed him to win a championship. As time went on, it became less probable that that would happen. That’s why we’re at where we’re at now. I think he’s kind of stated, too, that next year is going to be his last year.”
Haas said that Monster Energy, which is tied to Busch, “significantly cut down their sponsorship last year, and now they’re about the same money next year.”
As for other drivers, Haas said his team has had talks with Daniel Suarez’s camp.
“We’ve talked to him,” Haas said. “He brings a different group of sponsors. Like anything else, it comes down to the bottom line. How much sponsorship are we talking? How much money does SHR get? How much money does the driver get? Those are the kind of typical things that can take a while to iron out because everybody wants everything.”
Excluding a driver’s salary, Haas said it takes $20 million “to run a competitive Cup team.”
While some might view the 20-year-old Custer, who drives for SHR’s Xfinity team, as an option to move up to the team’s Cup ride, Haas is not convinced.
“We think Cole is a good talent,” Haas said. “I think he’s talented. He’s very marketable. I think a lot of things are positives, but he has to win in the Xfinity (Series) before he can really move up to Cup racing. If we were to push that, I think we might do more harm than good. He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”
Custer has one win in 64 career Xfinity starts and finished third in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas. He is winless this year. He is in the Xfinity playoffs for the second consecutive year. He finished fifth in the points last year.
Haas also said it is “not really an option” to downsize to three teams next year.
“We have Ford money per car, and the 41 car gets prize money, and prize money is based on previous years,” Haas said. “It wouldn’t be nearly as profitable not to run it as it would be to run it in some shape or form.”