Stewart-Haas Racing is in trouble.
A racing programme in disarray. So claimed the braying masses at the beginning of the 2014 season. They sensed an organisation ensnared within a downward spiral, their collective boot ready to rub the noses of an embattled outfit further into the turf.
First, there was a team owner who had suffered a severely broken leg while racing off road in his spare time. Out six months and easing himself back into racing as the season was about to get underway, Tony Stewart was no longer a force to be reckoned with.
So they said.
Then to make matters worse for Stewart, his business partner, Gene Haas, goes and employs a fourth driver in Kurt Busch. Not one of Stewart's favourite people. Now Busch has had his run ins with just about everyone under the sun and dismantled his chances of steady employment with just about everyone under the sun. But Haas, the kind soul that he is, figured one so talented deserves another chance under this fair sun. Fair enough. Except that Stewart was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a broken leg when he hears this cheerful news. What a get well present that was for the poor guy. He knew nothing and is a partner in the business; Tremendous for the blood pressure.
Stewart is known to have a short fuse at times, and his fuse could ignite with no match in sight at this news.
Stewart-Haas had only just added Kevin Harvick to the team. The man decided a fresh start with a new team would be just the ticket to lead him to the promised land.
And with three other strong-minded teammates in the near vicinity, there must surely be a feud or three to be had. Oh what fun.
Did we mention that Danica Patrick was on board, too. And is still finding her way in Sprint Cup. Not at the level as her teammates yet, but learning fast, this is a driver who courts controversy from the petty and small-minded for no other reason than she is female.
So there is criticism flying in all directions, and then Busch is added to this melting pot of monumental egos. Those same egos masquerading under the auspices of a tight knit team, no one would fall for this. Surely this lot could not get on.
Hey, no one ever accused Nascar of being boring.
A team with four explosive personalities and cars that struggled to be up to speed in 2013, and perhaps those braying masses were right.
By the time these four had finished fighting amongst each other, there would be limited time to quarrel with the other forty or so drivers in the field. An apparent bunch of misfits outfitted with tinder dry personas, nothing good was ever going to come of this.
Except that this talented troupe of terrorising titans had notions otherwise.
There is Patrick. Despite five races where she either did not finish or had her race wrecked through mechanical failures, she has managed 21st, 18th, 15th and a 22nd place. Consistently higher than in 2013. Then there is Stewart who has gained two top five and four top ten finishes as well as one pole. Yeah, that leg is really bothering him. Not.
There must be some bad news there, somewhere. Well, no. You see, Busch has actually proven Haas right and set about achieving two top five and two top ten finishes with a win amongst that lot.
What a shocker this lot are proving to be. This doesn't even take into account the misdeeds of Harvick who has proved positively glutinous with two top 5's, three top ten's, one pole and two wins scattered in there for good measure.
And one of those was at Darlington, tonight.
Five hundred miles is a long way. Stating the obvious maybe, but, despite this, it all seemed straightforward for so long for the man from California. It was. Until, that is, ten laps to go when the cautions came out with monotonous regularity.
Tired drivers equals errors, and they sure came.
Three cautions within five laps. Gone was Harvick's two second lead and instead he found himself right smack bang in the middle of a dogfight with none other than Jimmie Johnson.
The same Jimmie Johnson that was supposedly not the force of years past. Yet here he was duking it out with Harvick amongst the hazards, counting down the laps to his first win of 2014. It wasn't to be for him due to a poor restart after the second caution.
But Harvick, what rare form that is emanating from his rev counter. Two victories, eight races, not the worst of strike rates.
Not the worst start to a season for Stewart-Haas Racing, either.