The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is a month in and teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske have asserted their dominance over the field with Joe Gibbs Racing not too far behind. However, one of the Cup Series’ top teams has struggled through the first four weeks.
To say the least, Stewart-Haas Racing has not been good to start the year. Kevin Harvick has put the team on his back early with three top-10 finishes and two top fives. How many top 10’s does Stewart-Haas have this year? Three – all from Harvick.
Chase Briscoe, Cole Custer and Aric Almirola haven’t found the speed necessary this season to produce quality finishes.
The poor results for the four-car Ford stable became apparent at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend as Harvick was the highest finisher with a 20th-place run. However, all four cars finished a lap down or DNF’d.
According to NASCAR’s loop data at Las Vegas, Almirola had an average position of 27.3 before slamming the wall on lap 178 to bring an end to his day. What’s surprising about his run is that he was the only Stewart-Haas driver to pass more cars than he was passed. His differential was +3. Harvick and Custer’s differentials were both -8, and Briscoe ended the day at -9.
For comparison, Bubba Wallace, who suffered a mechanical issue early in the race, matched Almirola’s pass differential of +3. Rick Ware Racing’s Josh Bilicki also had a differential of +3.
Harvick was the only SHR driver with an average running position of greater than 20th place.
The team’s run at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks ago was slightly better as they were a Custer tire not being cut from having two top-10 finishers in that race. However, Briscoe was the only driver in that race with more green-flag passes than he was passed. Harvick scored a top-five run, but was still passed under green 18 times more than he passed cars. The problem spots of that race stuck on Briscoe, who only spent three laps inside the top 15, while Almirola was involved in a wreck with Ryan Blaney.
At the Daytona Road Course, only Harvick and Custer finished inside the top 15. Briscoe had a nice run, but then suffered the late issue with the hood that blocked his vision of the track for an entire lap. However, Almirola did not make much noise as he finished 17th and only spent 31% of the race inside the top 15.
When it came to pass differential, Custer and Almirola were on the positive side of the spectrum at +15 and +2 respectively. Harvick was under at -6 and Briscoe came in at -16, but Briscoe’s data should be taken with a grain of salt after the freak incident with the hood.
With four races at four very different tracks in the books, Stewart-Haas needs to take all their data from their cars and improve on what they missed in their setups. With few practice and qualifying sessions this year, the team is going to need to find their success in the shop in order for quality results to become consistent on a weekend-to-weekend basis.
At the moment, Harvick is the only SHR driver to sit in the playoffs. Custer is the second-highest in points as he’s currently 19th. Both Briscoe and Almirola are outside the top 25 and sit below Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain to name a few. Almirola is even behind rookie Anthony Alfredo.
There’s still plenty of racing left before the postseason, but Stewart-Haas needs to start garnering steals after beginning with a handful of turnovers.