Has Stewart-Haas Racing Ever Really Become A Four-Car Team?

June 26, 2016; Sonoma, CA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) celebrates in victory lane during the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
June 26, 2016; Sonoma, CA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) celebrates in victory lane during the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

In the last three years we have gotten used to seeing four Stewart-Haas Racing cars run a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule instead of the three that participated in 2013. Having already won two championships since 2011 the organization is now recognized as one of the most important in the sport and is always a threat for the final win when it comes to Homestead. This influence and popularity that they have obtained makes the fans keep a closer eye on their teams, resulting in the drivers being blamed when the results are not as high as expected.

Fans indeed expect great results from an organization capable of winning championships. In my opinion though, the fact that the organization itself is capable of taking home the trophy in Homestead does not mean that all of their teams are: it’s quite clear that the main focus inside the Stewart-Haas camp is on Kevin Harvick because he is right now the best driver that the organization (and maybe NASCAR in general, but this is a different story) has. Harvick is most times super fast since the start of first practice on Friday while the other teams struggle.

Think of Danica Patrick for example. She is always under fire from her many detractors who blame the driver for the lack of results of the #10 team, but is she really the only reason for that? She is not a Jimmie Johnson and probably does not have the talent that her teammates have, but she is a good driver. Tony Stewart believed in her abilities since the beginning, since he hired her. He believed in her as a driver and not as a “marketing machine” and who would not trust Tony Stewart? But on most first practices they show up around the 30th position on the speed charts and those issues with finding speed are obviously tough to overcome during a race weekend. Can it be just the driver? I don’t think the speed that one car has can be directly the driver’s fault, especially during first practice on Friday when the cars get on the track for the first time since they arrived from the race shop. What Patrick as a driver is missing is aggressiveness (especially on restarts) not overall ability to be fast.

The same idea could be applied to what happened to Stewart for two long seasons in 2014 and 2015: apart from his non NASCAR related problems, he did not run well and had two seasons in which his final position in the championship standings was very poor. This season things have changed in better for him with good results and that is the ultimate proof (along with the fact that Stewart is unquestionably a champion) that what prevented the #14 team to run well in the two previous seasons was not the lack of ability of the driver but poor equipment.

I think that Stewart-Haas Racing is still not a Hendrick Motorsports or a Joe Gibbs Racing. They cannot afford (or maybe they could, had Gene Haas decided to focus just on NASCAR instead of creating a Formula 1 team which destiny is to become Ferrari’s B team) to put the same economic effort in all four teams. Only four years ago in 2012 they were a two-car organisation! They added one car in 2013 for Patrick and the idea was to still be a three-car team in the following years even after the substitution of Ryan Newman with Harvick.

But if you remember well that summer of 2013 was very particular: Haas hired Kurt Busch as a fourth driver for the following season without the permission of his co-owner Stewart who in that period was hospitalised for a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash. Stewart was not happy at all for that decision because he knew his organisation was not ready for the big step of adding a fourth car but he had to accept it. In two seasons they eventually added two teams to the organisation. And someone would have to pay the price for it.

In the first part of 2014 it was Busch to do so: he won at Martinsville but apart from that, he struggled mightily. SHR’s decision was then to swap Patrick’s team and crew chief with Busch’s and since then, the parts have inverted: Busch has found the consistency he needed to compete while Patrick has struggled even more than before. It was a good decision for the health of the entire organisation because Busch ended up winning a few races but it shows how Stewart-Haas Racing still could not be efficient in all four teams. Things do not appear to have totally changed yet but they are improving: if the #10 team still has not found what they need to step up their game, Stewart and his definitely have and they should be guaranteed a spot in this year’s Chase.

What is your take on the effort that Stewart-Haas Racing is making to help its drivers? Do you think that the creation of the Haas Formula1 team could be a factor in the economy of the parallel NASCAR organisation? Make sure to tell us in the comments.