Kevin Harvick has been so good that it’s easy to overlook the success his teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing are having.
Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola are all inside the top 10 of the Cup Series points standings through the first third of the season. It’s the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era (dating back to 2004) that a team has had all four of its cars in the top 10 through the first 12 races of a season.
Yeah, SHR has been pretty damn good.
“Things are finally gelling and working the way they’re supposed to work at a multi-car team,” Bowyer said earlier this month at Kansas. “It doesn’t do anybody any good to have one car running good. Having all four cars running well up front for our partners on the side of the cars, our manufacturer, it just speaks volumes about everybody pushing in the same direction and the adjustments we made in the offseason and putting a year under our belts and learning from that.”
Bowyer and Harvick are already locked into the playoffs thanks to wins while Busch and Almirola look to be safely in the playoffs via points barring a collapse over the second half of the regular season.
The team’s success is remarkable because it is unprecedented in the playoff era even if Almirola is in the top 10 thanks to a points penalty for Kyle Larson. But it’s also remarkable because SHR had never been able to get all four cars running well before.
Harvick won the title in 2014, but Tony Stewart had just seven top-10 finishes in 33 races and Danica Patrick was 28th in the standings. Stewart struggled even more the next year, finishing in the top 10 just three times and finishing 28th in the points while Patrick moved to 24th in the standings.
Stewart made the playoffs in 2016 thanks to a win but Patrick still lagged behind and Stewart led jus 36 laps. A year ago, Bowyer missed out on the playoffs because he didn’t have a win and Patrick once again struggled.
Patrick was replaced by Almirola before the 2018 season. It’s fair to say the swap has been an upgrade and benefitted the whole team. Almirola’s average finish was five spots better than Patrick’s in 2017 despite driving for a single-car team with inferior equipment.
“I’d say last year, not that I didn’t have confidence, but I was always unsure on what I was gonna get,” Almirola said at Kansas. “Last year, life was like a box of chocolates. You never knew what you were gonna get from week to week. This year, I know what I’m gonna get. Every week I know I’m gonna show up with a car that I know is gonna be fast and that it’s up to Johnny and myself to do the best that we can to make it a race-winning car. “
Its also fair to say that NASCAR’s new inspection rules have benefitted Ford teams like Stewart-Haas at the expense of other teams. NASCAR moved to a camera-based officiating system to inspect cars before the 2018 season from a laser-based measuring system. The camera system is more exact and many believe it’s cut the margins that some teams were smartly exploiting in the old system to gain an advantage over their competitors.
Heck, the tide has turned so much that defending champion Martin Truex Jr. joked after Kansas that Ford teams had an unfair advantage in 2018, a play on Ford driver Brad Keselowski’s 2017 comments that Toyota teams were ahead of the rest of the field.
Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano was quick to point out that Ford teams as a whole don’t necessarily have an advantage. Rather, it’s Stewart-Haas and Harvick.
“How does it feel?” Logano said to Truex. “Not as good as [Harvick], I can tell you that much. Oh, man, I’m still chasing a car that’s way faster than me. It used to be [Truex], now it’s [Harvick] at this point. The good news is we’re closer than we were last year, so we are consistent, we’re knocking off top‑5s, top‑10s, getting stage points every time … Like you said, we’re consistent, we’re just consistently off the Stewart‑Haas cars right now.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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