This time last year, Stewart-Haas Racing had 4 wins, all by Kevin Harvick, but three of the four drivers were contending for playoff spots. This year, Harvick is by no means locked into the field of 16 for the Playoffs, and has zero wins. As a matter of face, he has only one runner-up finish, coming at Kansas.
Needless to say, this has been a down year for Harvick, but it’s the entire team that has been in disarray. The second highest driver in the points is Chase Briscoe, who sits 199 points out of the final playoff spot. Then you have Aric Alrimola, who is not likely to be replaced, because he has a full time sponsor in Smithfield. Cole Custer, who I called a bad hire when he was announced, is proving me to be right for a change while having a miserable season.
Some could make excuses for their performances, like losing Clint Bowyer and replacing him with a young and inexperienced Briscoe. You might also say that this season the Ford camp in general has struggled. And that would be a valid point. Only four wins on the year for Ford, and one of those was the Daytona 500 for Michael McDowell. But this struggle for Stewart-Haas is different. The Penske drivers all have a win, and have all led laps, and been in contention for wins. You cannot say the same for Harvick, or any of his teammates.
I blame this lack of success on two things. First off, their co-owner Tony Stewart. Stewart created the SRX Series, and has been very hands on with everyday operations there. When Gene Haas created his racing team, the team struggled with longevity. Their cars were fast, and could compete for top 10 finishes, but wins were light years away. When Stewart walked in the door, the goal became Championships, and the goal was accomplished sooner than most thought he could.
Without Stewart being committed full time, I feel the entire organization has taken their foot off the gas pedal. The focus on the Next Gen Car has taken away a little focus, but the stats say this season will be a wash even in the Playoffs. The focus will have to shift to driver replacement again this offseason.
Aric Almirola has become a liability. Sponsor, or not, a replacement driver that can bring synergy to the team is a must get this time around. I think moving up Briscoe is the long term solution, but Cole Custer should have a very short leash going into next season.
In conclusion, I am hopeful that Tony Stewart getting back to the pit box full time will improve finishes, but I am not holding my breath for this year. And next year, the cars get a drastic makeover, and there is not telling what the cars will perform like.