By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Gene Haas can barely believe his luck as his team, the first U.S.-owned Formula One outfit for 30 years, gets ready for a debut home grand prix on Sunday.
The machine tool industrialist, who has been involved in NASCAR for more than 15 years, is smiling with Haas eighth in the standings and comfortably ahead of Renault, Manor and Sauber.
With a Ferrari engine and close technical collaboration, it was always likely they would be more than just making up the numbers but there were also some cynics predicting a rude awakening.
Instead, Haas, 63, made a splash by becoming the first entrants since Brawn in 2009 to score on their race debut in Australia in March and the first completely new team to score points since Toyota in 2002.
"When we first got involved ... what surprised me the most was probably ... how easy it was for us to get these 28 points," the American told reporters after practice in Austin.
"Now I’ve been involved in it for a while, I’m starting to realize how lucky we were to get those 28 points because it really put us in a position for next year’s constructors’ (championship) -- I don’t think we could do that today."
Frenchman Romain Grosjean scored in three of the first four races and remains the only Haas driver to have delivered, with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez yet to open his account.
Grosjean, who was with Lotus last year, also finished seventh in Austria in July for Haas's most recent points finish.
"We were very lucky to begin with. We had almost a year to prepare ... those first few races everything was brand new ... fresh out of the package so we had a lot of good luck," said Haas.
"When you get mid-season you have to start worrying about your parts ... now all of a sudden you have this time crunch and it puts a lot more pressure on you.
"We’re struggling right now. It’s hard."
With four races remaining, Haas are 19 points behind Toro Rosso and unlikely to change position barring some kind of miracle.
Sunday could be a long afternoon, with the cars no higher than 14th in any of the three practice sessions, but just racing on home soil will be a thrill and Grosjean is also making his 100th start.
"It’s great to be here," said Grosjean. "An extra pride to be wearing the American flag on the car."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)