NASCAR: Stewart-Haas Racing could be facing a huge problem

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Stewart-Haas Racing losing Kevin Harvick after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season could send the team into rebuild mode, and that doesn’t currently look all that promising.

Before the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season began, Kevin Harvick announced that it would be his 23rd and final season in the series and his 10th and final season with Stewart-Haas Racing behind the wheel of the No. 4 car. He is set to join the Fox Sports broadcast booth full-time in 2024.

The move leaves Stewart-Haas Racing, which have made a driver change after six of the last seven seasons as it is, needing to find a new driver for the No. 4 Ford for next year as they look to replace their all-time winningest driver.

That in itself is a tall task. What makes things worse is that, aside from Harvick, the start of the 2023 season has been a disaster for Stewart-Haas Racing, leaving no clear answers for the team as they look toward the future.

Harvick, who led the standings after four races, sits in sixth after five, and he is the only one of the team’s four drivers inside the top 22.

Chase Briscoe sits in 23rd place, first-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Preece, who replaced Cole Custer, sits in 26th, and Aric Almirola sits in 27th.

Interestingly, all are ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott. Byron and Larson were docked 100 points each after the race at Phoenix Raceway, while Elliott hasn’t competed in a month due to a broken leg. They are all also ahead of Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley, who was also docked 100 points after the race at Phoenix Raceway.

So in terms of true points per race (among full-time drivers), Briscoe, Preece, and Almirola rank 27th, 28th, and 31st place, respectively. There are 34 full-time drivers.

Not ideal.

What’s worse is the fact that Almirola, whose six seasons with the team rank second most behind Harvick, could also call it quits after the 2023 season.

Him retiring would leave Stewart-Haas Racing without a true veteran and in need of changing half of their lineup for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

The 38-year-old Fort Walton Beach, Florida native, who has won two races since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, was initially set to retire after the 2022 season, but he changed his mind and decided to return for 2023 on what was described as a “multi-year deal”, though that deal reportedly contains an option for him to retire if he decides he has had enough after 2023.

Replacing Harvick is one thing. Replacing him and Almirola, especially given the team’s struggles, would make things even more challenging.

Let’s not forget that, while the team have been no strangers to changing their driver lineup over the last seven years, they have never made more than a single change in an offseason during that span.

This is a team that has struggled since the start of the 2021 season, especially relative to some of the other teams that are considered top-tier teams of the sport.

After leading with series with 10 wins (nine from Harvick) in 2020, they won just one race in 2021, when Harvick went winless for the first time since 2009. In 2022, they won three races, but two wins came courtesy of Harvick.

Barring some blockbuster free agent signing, are they really ready for post-Harvick reality — especially if they also lose their other veteran driver? Who is going to step up?

Interestingly enough, Harvick wasn’t the team’s highest finishing driver in the 2022 standings, even though he was clearly their top performer throughout the year. He was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs.

Briscoe qualified for the playoffs with his early season upset win at Phoenix Raceway. Despite not doing much after that (two top 10 finishes in the final 22 regular season races), he made a deep playoff run and advanced the round of 8.

He was on pace to advance to the Championship 4 before being passed for the lead late in the round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway, and he finished the season with six top 10 finishes in the last seven races.

Despite the fact that he got hot at the right time a year ago, his rough start to the 2023 season has cast doubt on the idea that he is truly ready to become Stewart-Haas Racing’s true lead driver.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

What does Stewart-Haas Racing’s future hold once Harvick is calling races on Sundays instead of competing in them? Do they have what it takes to get back to the level of some of the sport’s other top teams? They certainly have a lot of work to do to prove it if they do.