The Dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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The Dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2018 12:30 am

We’re only ten weeks away from the 61st running of the Daytona 500, but before we look ahead to the 2019 NASCAR season, I’d like to use this space over the next several weeks to review some of the most intriguing storylines that came out of the 2018 season – a year which culminated with Joey Logano being crowned the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. This week, I’ll be discussing the dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing as a team.

Many times in NASCAR we tend to focus on a single driver and get caught up discussing their talent and evaluating their performance. While a driver

normally gets all of the credit or blame based on their success, there are countless different components that directly affect a driver’s ability to run toward the front of the field.

One of the key elements that isn’t always on the forefront of people’s mind are the driver’s

racing team. Larger teams such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing have displayed the advantages of being part of a group that works together.

While drivers on these teams race hard against each other on Sundays, their crews are collaborating all week long to give every driver on the team the best possible car. When the teams leave the track and head back to North Carolina each week, the team shares all of the data with one another, helping all of their cars find the best possible setup for future races. For example, when Joey Logano wins a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway like he did this year, Team Penske will share all of the data from the Ford EcoBoost 400 to help its other drivers such as Ryan Blaney, who only finished 17th in the race, score a better finish next time they come to the Speedway. 

Perhaps the best

demonstration of the advantage of working together as a team this season was Stewart-Haas Racing. When the season started back in February, the Daytona 500 provided us with a tease of what was to expect from Stewart-Haas and their collection of Ford drivers. While Austin Dillon may have won the race, it was initially Aric Almirola leading the pack heading into the final lap.

For Stewart-Haas it was a bitter feeling to come so close to winning the Daytona 500. Their luck changed very quickly as Kevin Harvick won the next three races at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. While Harvick was reaping the rewards, his three Stewart-Haas teammates – Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch – weren’t far behind, as they combined for six top-10s during this stretch.

Stewart-Haas’ early season success was perhaps a sign of things to come. During the regular season, the team would go on to win ten races, the most of any race team. As the playoffs began in September, they were joined by Team Penske as the only multi-car race teams to have all of their drivers make the Monster Energy Series playoffs.

The four Stewart-Haas drivers survived the first two rounds of the playoffs and made up half of the field during the Round of 8. Having the entire team make the Monster Energy Series’ Round of 8 was a remarkable accomplishment, and all but guaranteed them a spot in the Championship 4. Harvick was the only driver who represented the team in the Championship 4, and although he didn’t leave Homestead-Miami Speedway with a championship to his name, the team’s success played a big part in helping Ford secure its 16th manufacturers’ title.

Stewart-Haas’ success wasn’t only present in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season but also trickled down to the Xfinity Series as well. Stewart-Haas captured the owner’s championship in the XFINITY Series due to the success of 2017 Ford EcoBoost 300 winner Cole Custer, who led the series with 26 top-10s and was a part of this year’s Championship 4.

As incredible of a season as Stewart-Haas had in 2018, there’s plenty of questions surrounding the organization as they prepare for the 2019 season. Perhaps the biggest is who will replace Busch in the No. 41 car. There’s been

plenty of speculation that it will be 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez, who was replaced by Martin Truex Jr. at Joe Gibbs Racing, but the team has yet to officially name a new driver to its team. Regardless of who gets behind the wheel of the open ride at Stewart-Haas, they’ll be in good hands at an organization who proved they can compete at the sports highest level this year.

Of course another question is if they can sustain the level of success they displayed this past year. With Ford moving from the Fusion to the Mustang in 2019, there will be a transition period for Stewart-Haas as they adjust to the new car. If they are able to learn quickly and make modifications based on the Mustang’s performance, Stewart-Haas will once again be one of NASCAR’s strongest teams, and we might even see them here at Homestead-Miami Speedway battling for more championship.

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

Dec. 15 Miami Exotic Auto Racing

Dec. 16 Performance Driving Group

Dec. 28 Miami Exotic Auto Racing

Jan. 4-6 Sports Car Club of America

Jan. 11 Fast Lane Friday, presented by Metro by T-Mobile

Jan. 11-13 NASCAR Racing Experience: Driving 101

2019 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 15 Ford EcoBoost 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 16 Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 17 Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship

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