When Tony Stewart announced just prior to the 2009 season that he was leaving JGR in and joining team owner, Gene Haas, to create a new team by the name of Stewart-Haas Racing, it was met with a lot of skepticism.
Here we had, at the time, a two-time Cup Series champion in Tony Stewart leaving the team that he had called home ever since joining the NASCAR Cup Series back in the late ’90s and he was going to just start over with a relatively unproven team? Sounds insane, right? But that’s exactly what he did.
The Haas CNC Racing team was known primarily for being a Hendrick Motorsports satellite team. They had a technical alliance with HMS and got their engines from there as well. But their equipment just was not up to the par with HMS and many of the other leading teams in the industry. Tony Stewart had a vision to change all of that and despite many naysayers in the industry, he did just that.
In 2009, Tony Stewart would collect the All-Star win and go on to win 4 points-paying races as an owner driver. He would finish 6th in the standings. Ryan Newman in the teams No. 39 entry sponsored by Army would also have a decent season despite going winless on the season. He would end the season in a respectable 9th place.
The years that followed would see similar good season come out of the organization, including the championship-winning 2011 for Tony Stewart. But let’s take a look back at that season before we continue here, shall we? While 2011 is remembered for the year Tony Stewart won his third and final Cup Series Championship, what is often forgotten is the fairly mediocre season Smoke was having up to that point. He was even quoted as saying that he didn’t think that they deserved a spot in the championship chase and that he was only taking a spot away from a more deserving driver and team.
And then he went out and won half, yes, half of the 10-race Chase for the Cup that year en route to claiming his third championship, the first owner-driver to score a championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
That was the season that more-or-less ended Tony Stewart’s career as a driver. Yes, he was able to win three races in 2012 and one more in 2013 but, more-or-less, his time as a week-in-week-out competitor for wins in NASCAR ended here.
But prior to that, how was the rest of SHR doing? Ryan Newman in SHR’s second-tier entry, the No. 39, would win four races over the span of five years. Danica Patrick in the team’s third entry would go winless during her whole tenure at SHR in the No. 10 car. After a series of injuries and one horrific tragedy, Tony Stewart was never the same and the competitive torch for SHR had been passed to one of Tony’s closest friends and Ryan Newman’s 2014 replacement in the newly renumber No. 4 car, Kevin Harvick.
And he won right out of the gate, taking the NASCAR Cup Series Championship during his first year with the team.
When Gene Haas opted to field a newly formed fourth car in the No. 41 with Kurt Busch as the driver, it came as a surprise to Tony Stewart. But it mostly worked out in the end as the No. 41 team quickly became the second-best team on the SHR roster with Kurt Busch as the driver.
With the elder Busch piloting their car, the team won six times over five seasons, scoring two wins in 2015 alone. It would appear that with the acquisition of Harvick and Busch, the guide of the aging driver in Tony Stewart, and the star power of Danica Patrick that the team was really shaping up to be a real powerhouse organization on par with Gibbs and Hendrick.
But that never actually happened. Following the 2018 season, Kurt Busch would leave SHR for Ganassi Racing and an underdeveloped and underperforming Daniel Suarez would take over the No. 41 ride for a single season – before being booted in favor of rising Xfinity Series star, Cole Custer.
Meanwhile, Stewart and Patrick would both retire to be replaced by Bowyer and Almirola respectively who were both able to win races for the organization but their performances overall would prove to be inconsistent at best.
With Clint Bowyer getting the boot in favor of a much younger Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer flirting with becoming a NASCAR bust, the lower-tier teams of SHR’s ranks did what they do best: perform by-and-large mediocrely with a couple of bright spots in the form of a couple of wins to keep the press talking.
But as the three teams of the No. 10, No. 14, and No.41 struggled to keep up with the competition, it was Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Ford Mustang that would carry the team on his back in the final years of his career.
After his 2014 championship-winning season, Kevin Harvick would go on to make the Playoff’s Final Four a staggering 4 times, including three years in a row. He would win a grand total of 37 races for the organization over a 9-year period.
The rest of the teams would win only 13 races split amongst 5 drivers, and most of them came from Kurt Busch. I think the moment that most accurately depicts where SHR is in performance today is the following video:
After a season best 9-win season, Kevin Harvick missed the 2020 Championship 4 by one point, wrecking with Kyle Busch coming out of turn 4. A lot of people say that since then, SHR hasn’t been the same. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think that SHR is no better or worse off than they’ve ever been, as a whole. Maybe there’s been a slight downtick in performance but I think, by and large, it’s more of the same.
The only thing that has changed has been Kevin Harvick’s age as he’s started to have the same issues that most aging drivers have towards the end of their career. It’s only showing now because of Harvick’s, their flagship driver, decreased win total in recent years. As for the other teams, it’s more of the same. They just haven’t found the right drivers or people to work on their cars. It’s as simple as that.
What do you think, DDF readers? Do you foresee an SHR revival in Harvick’s swan song season or do you think it’ll be more of the same? Do you think that all of SHR’s problems are rooted from previously diagnosed issues that were covered up by Harvick’s instant success? Let us know what you think and keep it right here for more NASCAR discussion!