Stewart-Haas Racing 2018 Team Preview

Stewart-Haas Racing enters the 2018 with a new driver replacing one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, Danica Patrick.

Is 2018 the year that brings Kevin Harvick his second Cup Series championship? (World Copyright: Barry Cantrell, NKP)

Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer Ford (Crew Chief: Rodney Childers)

2017 stats: 3rd in points, 2 wins, 14 top fives, 23 top tens, 4 poles, 16 playoff points

2017 recap: Kevin Harvick reached the Championship 4 again, making it the third time in the last four seasons. Harvick was Stewart-Haas Racing’s best car all season long, despite not earning his first victory until Sonoma in June. Coming up short of a championship is a disappointment for this team, given their recent successes. But in a year where the Toyota cars dominated, Harvick and his No. 4 Ford only came up a few positions short.

2018 outlook: A trip back to the playoffs is expected at this point for Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. A deep run in the playoffs is also expected. Harvick and the Fords are still lacking speed compared to the Toyotas and with Chevrolet launching their new Camaro race car, it could place the Ford drivers slightly behind. That might not matter for Harvick, however, as his team usually finds a way to win and stay within striking distance of a championship.

Kurt Busch returns to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2018. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Kurt Busch, No. 41 Monster Energy Ford (Crew Chief: Billy Scott)

2017 stats: 14th in points, 1 win, 6 top fives, 15 top tens, 1 pole, 5 playoff points

2017 recap: Kurt Busch started the 2017 season with a bang, winning the Daytona 500. That would end up being Busch’s lone win on the season. The only other driver in the SHR stable to win during the season was Kevin Harvick and that didn’t happen until June at Sonoma. Busch’s season fizzled out and ended on the opposite end of the spectrum from how it started.

2018 outlook: Busch will be paired with new crew chief Billy Scott this season as Tony Gibson moves on to take a different role within SHR. Busch has already spent time with Scott this offseason. “…Lunch as many days as possible, texting each day, calls and just putting a strategy together,” Busch said during NASCAR media days. “We will be out in Las Vegas doing the test together with Stewart-Haas and Ford.”

As for on the track, Busch believes SHR has stepped it’s game up for the 2018 season. “I can’t talk specifics about the engine but we have improved in the areas that Penske, Roush and us at SHR all demanded,” said Busch. “Doug Yates listened to us and applied that. That is exciting news. For all the 1.5 mile and short track stuff. We believe we have the elite superspeedway engines right now.”

Clint Bowyer is still in search of his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing. (World Copyright: John K Harrelson/NKP)

Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford (Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz)

2017 stats: 18th in points, 0 wins, 6 top fives, 13 top tens, 0 poles, 1 playoff point

2017 recap: Clint Bowyer had some big shoes to fill in 2017. Bowyer replaced three-time champion Tony Stewart who reached won a race and reached the playoffs in his final NASCAR season. Bowyer failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and found himself running mid-pack for much of the season. Among the rest of the SHR drivers, Bowyer was closer to Kurt Busch in the running order than Kevin Harvick for a majority of the season.

2018 outlook: Bowyer hasn’t visited victory lane since the fall Charlotte race in 2012 when he drover for Michael Waltrip Racing. Making a switch to a new team, something Bowyer had to do for the past three seasons, can make it difficult for a driver to get into a rhythm. For 2018, Bowyer will finally return to the same team for the first time since the start of the 2014 season and will keep crew chief Mike Bugarewicz atop the pit box. A berth in the playoffs based on points alone is achievable for this team.

Aric Almirola joins Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. (World Copyright: Russell LaBounty, NKP)

Aric Almirola, No. 10 Smithfield Ford (Crew Chief: John Klausmeier)

2017 stats: 29th in points, 0 wins, 3 top fives, 6 top tens, 0 poles, 0 playoff points

2017 recap:  2017 isn’t a year Aric Almirola will remember fondly. Almirola started just 29 races after an accident at Kansas Speedway sidelined him for eight weeks. Last season was also the final year for Almirola behind the wheel of the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). News broke in September that Smithfield Foods would be ending their sponsorship  with RPM and putting the teams status in jeopardy.

2018 outlook: Almirola replaces Danica Patrick in the No. 10 and brings with him sponsorship from Smithfield Foods. Almriola will not only have to make the switch to a new team but will have a new crew chief as well. “The transition to Stewart-Haas Racing has been really easy,” said Almirola during NASCAR media day.

“I have just been really looking forward to getting to the race track to go race. We go all off season and work on all the little things. Changing teams is a big undertaking. I would say that the most challenging thing has been learning 380 employees names and faces. Everybody wants to be exceptional. Having that opportunity to go out and be exceptional is exciting.”

Follow Matt on Twitter, @mattlovisa.

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