NASCAR Cup Series team set up for worst ever season in 2024?

Since becoming Stewart-Haas Racing, the team have placed at least one driver in every NASCAR Cup Series postseason. Will that change in 2024?
Ryan Preece, Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR
Ryan Preece, Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

Tony Stewart became a co-owner of what is now known as Stewart-Haas Racing ahead of the 2009 NASCAR Cup Series season. During his time as a team owner, no season has ever turned out collectively worse than their 2023 campaign.

The team earned their first victory in their first season as Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, with Stewart himself collecting four victories. Two years later, he won his third -- and the team's first -- championship. Kevin Harvick signed with the team in 2014 and immediately won another title.

From 2009 to 2020, the team never had anything other than a multi-win season. They amassed 65 wins during that stretch, including a series-high 12 in 2018 and a series-high 10 in 2020.

Their worst season during that stretch was 2013, when they won only twice and saw their top driver, Ryan Newman, finish in only 11th in the point standings. Stewart, who had already won a race and was poised to challenge during the postseason once again, ended up being sidelined with an injury he suffered in a summer sprint car crash.

But the last few years have been a struggle for Stewart-Haas Racing. They won just a single race in 2021, and while they added three more wins in 2022, Harvick's ninth place finish was the lowest team-leading finish in the standings since Newman in 2013.

Things got even worse in 2023, when the team went winless for the first time as Stewart-Haas Racing -- and for the first time since before the organization had become a race-winning organization. Harvick was the only one of the team's four drivers who made the playoffs, and he only finished in 13th place in the point standings.

And things may get even worse during the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Harvick has retired and has now joined the Fox Sports broadcast booth, with Josh Berry having replaced him behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford.

While Stewart-Haas Racing are no strangers to driver changes, having altered their lineup after seven of the last eight seasons, this marks the first offseason during that stretch in which they have made multiple changes.

Aric Almirola has also left the team after six years to move to a part-time Xfinity Series role with Joe Gibbs Racing. He has been replaced by Noah Gragson behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford.

All things considered, it's a full-blown rebuild at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Chase Briscoe, whose one win in three seasons with the organization came in March 2022, is now the team veteran, and even without a 120-point penalty last year, he only would have finished in 23rd place in the point standings.

Ryan Preece, the only other non-first-year driver in their 2024 lineup, recorded just two top 10 finishes in his first year with the team last season.

Berry's Cup Series career is limited to select starts as a substitute driver, highlighted by a runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway that came about due to a perfect pit strategy.

And Gragson's Cup Series career looked like it was over in August, when he was released by Legacy Motor Club and suspended by NASCAR after being found to have "liked" an inappropriate meme on social media. Even in 21 starts before then, he had recorded just two top 20 finishes and was widely viewed as being on his way out after just one year with the team.

Rebuilding is one thing, but rebuilding a team that has already seemingly fallen well behind so many other top-tier teams is a tall task. Doing so with a lineup full of unproven and inexperienced drivers is an even taller task.

Things have gotten progressively worse for Stewart-Haas Racing over the last few seasons, really starting with Harvick's shock playoff elimination after what had been a career-best nine-win season in 2020. In 2024, they are positioned to hit rock bottom.

It's not hard to envision Stewart-Haas Racing missing out on the playoffs entirely for the first time in their 16-year history.

Of course, given how low expectations are, Stewart-Haas Racing could pull off a surprise. Given the playoff format, it's not impossible to imagine one of their four drivers pulling off an upset win in a superspeedway race to at least give the team at least one postseason representative.

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But shy of that kind of unexpected outcome, it will be nothing short of an uphill climb for them to reestablish themselves among the contenders. That kind of turnaround is probably a few years away, and getting to that point will not be easy.