By Toby Christie, Editor – Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
A year ago, Stewart-Haas Racing went through the daunting task of swapping the manufacturer of their four-car Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organization from Chevrolet to Ford. It was a move that had the usually potent championship contending team, staggering for much of the 2017 season.
The team captured just three victories, and even though Kevin Harvick worked his way into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it just felt like a lost season as Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. burned the ground down following his first-career Cup Series title celebration.
Fast forward to 2018, and things have done a total 180-degree turn for the team.
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All four of the SHR Fords were fast in the season-opening Daytona 500, but in the chaotic restrictor plate race all of them wiped out, except Clint Bowyer. Aric Almirola, the new guy on the block, was in the lead with a half lap to go until he was punted out of the way by race winner Austin Dillon.
Despite none of the drivers finishing higher than 11th, it wasn’t a bad outing for the team – just bad circumstances at the always unpredictable Daytona International Speedway.
This past Sunday at Atlanta, the SHR drivers were undoubtedly the class of the field.
Harvick led a race-high 181 laps en route to the 38th victory of his career, and like that the team is already a third of the way to their win total from a year ago. Kurt Busch also led another 52 laps before settling for eighth.
Clint Bowyer didn’t lead any laps, but in the closing laps he charged to a third-place finish, and after climbing from the car he attributed the great race to all of the changes and hard work done by the SHR team in the offseason.
“All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast,” an elated Bowyer said. “That’s a credit to everybody’s hard work over the offseason and it paid dividends here tonight.”
Bowyer continued by saying, “It’s a lot of fun to be able to run like that so early in the season.”
Almirola ran inside the top-five for a huge portion of the day before fading late. Almirola still finished 13th.
For a powerhouse team like SHR these are the results you expect, aren’t they? Here is a statistic that will surprise you: Since moving to four cars in 2014 (146 races), this marks just the second time that the team has had all four cars finish 13th-or-better in the same race. The other time came in the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire last July.
Additionally the team’s average finish (6.5) in the 2018 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, is the highest cumulative team average finish since the team expanded to a three-car effort in 2013.
Why is there a sudden boom in performance? It seems it’s a combination of things.
For sure giving Rodney Childers and all of the other smart mechanics and engineers that the team has on their payroll a whole year to work on their Ford chassis, bodies and motors doesn’t hurt things.
But it also seems, to an outsider of the team looking in, that Almirola is a huge upgrade talent-wise and information-wise when it comes to the team working together on car setups than what Danica Patrick brought to the table. With how well this team is gelling to start the season off, it wouldn’t be crazy to imagine this team getting their first 1-2-3-4 finish in their history at some point this year.
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Toby Christie is the Editor of TheFinalLap.com and Social Media Director of all things @TheFinalLap. He is the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly radio show and podcast, and he is the writer and co-host of the Racing Legends podcast. Additionally, Christie is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has covered the sport as a media member since 2007. Christie began his love for NASCAR as a fan in 1993. You can Tweet Toby at Toby_Christie, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.