NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Will Stewart-Haas Racing Have More Than 6 Wins in 2018?

Stewart-Haas Racing has never had a season go by without having a car finish inside of the top seven in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings since its inception in 2010.

Not much seems like it will change this year, with all four of its Fords running at a premium level.

Up until now, though, SHR has never seen all-around success. Usually, one or two of its car are competing for top fives, with the other two (notably the Nos. 10 and 14 since 2013) have struggled to keep up the pace.

Now that all four of its cars are competing for top 10s on a weekly basis and each of its drivers sit inside playoff positions, there is much to be enthusiastic about at the team’s shop.

Through a mere 11 contests in NASCAR’s premier division, this team has five wins. Stewart-Haas Racing has never won more than six races in a Cup season, but could they be on pace to change that? Well, it’s certainly hard to see the team winning only one more race when both Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola are still winless. Oh, and let’s not forget that Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are blistering hot.

Meanwhile, a Reuters article published this week has stirred rumors that NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France and Co. are trying to sell NASCAR. The report went on to say that the France family is working with the investment firm Goldman Sachs to broker a deal.

Should a deal actually work out, it would not only shake-up the entire sport, but it could give us a good look at the legacy of NASCAR’s leader since 2003. How has France done in his role? What could he have done differently? What has he done that has changed the sport for the good?

Have a question for next week’s NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet me at @JosephNASCAR or email me at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com!

Q: Will Stewart-Haas Racing have more than six wins, which is the most they have in any season? – Cassie L., Mooresville, N.C.

A: It is most likely that SHR will surpass its team-record of six wins in a season. The organization won six races in 2011 (five with Tony Stewart and one with Ryan Newman) and in 2014 (five by Harvick and one by Busch). In total, this team has an impressive 44 triumphs in 1,016 combined races.

But until this year, we’ve never seen such a united SHR camp. The Fords are on fire to start the year, and the organization is leading that parade.

Almirola sits the lowest in the standings between the four drivers, currently in 11th, but has a 12.7 average finish, better than Busch’s 13.7. But because Busch has more stage points, he’s sixth in the standings.

The improvement is seen throughout SHR, with Busch leading 217 laps already this year, nearing his 2016 total of 238 circuits led.

Harvick’s early-season dominance is a bit of a surprise. He’s never won more than five races in a season himself. Currently, he’s on pace to score around 11-12 triumphs.

Yeah, he’s that good this year.

Will that happen? Probably not. The rest of the field will soon catch up to Harvick and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, who has three wins of his own this season.

Expect Harvick not to slow down, but rather have the rest of the pack pick things up. The Chevrolets will — sooner rather than later — begin to compete for wins. They will eventually show the speed Ford is showing, but clearly, that is going to take more time than anyone ever thought.

Harvick has already led 741 laps this year compared to 850 throughout all of 2017. His pace is remarkable, and he’s not alone. There are multiple tracks that not only he, but the rest of SHR can capitalize on moving forward.

One of them is this upcoming weekend at Kansas Speedway, where Almirola might be the one of the four cars to stand out. Just a year ago, he suffered from a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra during a wreck at Kansas Speedway.

Now, he returns to the track hungry for a strong run and he finally is in a car capable of doing just that. He’s previously had some solid showings at Kansas, earning four top 10s in 12 starts with Richard Petty Motorsports and even leading 69 laps at the track in 2012. If he can utilize his knowledge of the surface this weekend, we might see win No. 6 for Stewart-Haas Racing come sooner than anyone thought.

Q: If NASCAR gets sold to another entity, what is Brian France’s legacy? – James F., Charlotte

A: France has made some outstanding changes to NASCAR over the years, from spearheading major sponsorship deals to creating a playoff format that has evolved multiple times.

NASCAR’s esteemed leader has also been immersed in controversy, with drivers criticizing him for not attending many races and seldom showing his face at the racetrack. But when he does, his presence is certainly known, and not just because he’s a tall guy.

But France, take it or leave it, has made some incredible changes that have helped the sport grow. He’s been able to lock up major deals with broadcasters, even in the midst of a ratings decline, and has implemented several safety-improving changes, including his first, which was to eliminate drivers racing back to the start-finish line under yellow.

France’s efforts to rid NASCAR of stereotypes must also be acknowledged. The Drive For Diversity program has enabled drivers such as Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez and others to make it to the sport’s premier level when they likely would not have in NASCAR’s previous environment.

But during France’s tenure as NASCAR’s CEO, the sport has seen many changes, some of which France cannot be blamed for. It’s not his fault the likes of Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., amongst others, have retired, causing a major drop in ratings.

Not only have ratings dropped, but attendance has as well, making this potential sale not so surprising.

NASCAR recently purchased the ARCA Racing Series, with plans to fully takeover the division within two years. The addition of ARCA gives France and the rest of his family another entity to sell off. Its value can increase — even by the slightest — thanks to this acquisition.

NASCAR President Brent Dewar told employees that the France family “remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport,” according to a Tuesday morning Associated Press report. If that is indeed the case, selling a chunk of the sport to an outside entity might show that France believes in the product, and he hopes someone else feels the same way.

Change could be a good thing, but it would be a shame if France would step away altogether.

France represents nostalgia for NASCAR fans. When people see him, they think of his father and his grandfather. He represents change, in both positive and negative ways. Let’s just hope that whatever happens, NASCAR will be in good hands.

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kb

OH MY!!!! Other than the “safety issues’ that were implemented under his command, I disagree strongly with every viewpoint you had regarding what you consider a good legacy. Oh my. Oh my. Oh my!!!!!!!

BZF was and is a disaster for this sport. Including the deals made with the broadcasting companies. Ultimately. they dictated the insanity of Playoffs, THE CHASE, Stage racing. the final race at HOMESTEAD, bringing us the “HOMESTEAD CUP”, long cautions for commercials, fake drama, fan disinterest do to the cameras only showing a few cars at a time, the booth talking about their favorites, the bias in the booth… etc! The list goes on and on and on. Brian and his generation sold the sport out for $$$$$$$$$$$, fans be damned!

kb

Sorry forgot to mention the seeming manipulation that goes on, of course because who writes the biggest check to the man at the Castle! And the faux POLE at Daytona…come on…….gimmicks and shiny objects BZF is so fond of, instead of real racing…no legacy. Just shame.

Bill B

What are you, on dope?
The playoff format and the fact that it’s been changed 10 times in 15 years is not a positive, it’s a negative. It shows that they didn’t have a clue what they were doing and continue to change it on the fly.

How do you justify “has made some incredible changes that have helped the sport grow.” Where is the growth?!! What indicators are you looking at that shows any growth at all?

Blaming the major drop in ratings and attendance on drivers retiring is total bullshit. Drivers have been retiring since forever.

This article is just the biggest pile of horse shit I’ve ever seen.

Go get professional help and get into detox. It’s time you come back down to reality. You are writing fiction.

janice

i almost choked on my bagel when i read this. brain fart is the reason na$car is in the shape it’s in.

Bill B

The only way this would be legitimate is if it was April 1st.

Russ

The real value is the tracks and the real estate. If the Frances keep those and start to develop it they will come out light years ahead of trying to turn around a declining sport.
To just sell Nascar and not the tracks would be the greatest deal of all time.

Carl D.

Thanks Bill. As I read this article during lunch, it was hard not to blow my Reuben all over my desk from the gut-busting laughter the article caused. Does Frontstretch drug-test it’s writers? If so, Wolken is obviously headed for rehab.

Tony

Eh, give Wolkin a break. He’s young. He became a fan recently and hasn’t looked much further backward beyond the era he watched. And he doesn’t think he needs to, with the way most of the media has promoted the sport in his lifetime, acting as though nothing except Gordon or Earnhardt matters past about 2002.

He’s wrong and I spilled my drink laughing at him, but give him a break.

Ricardo

This column reads like a press release from NASCAR. The author has to be kidding, he is a BZF cup bearer. And NASCAR bought ARCA just to turn around and sell it off? Please provide your source for that conclusion.

Russ

The SHR thing will be resolved once the engineers for the other teams figure out what their peers at SHR are doing. Nothing changes so dramatically unless there is a reason and they will fiqure it out.

As for the potential sale of Nascar, I’m reminded of the local family owned grocery chain in Richmond which dominated the market for many years. Out of the blue it seemed they sold out to one of the big chains (which btw was nowhere near as successful and has since left). Nobody expected that but it seems that they had people they trusted in the industry telling them that they were doomed. That competition was coming that they could not compete with. So they sold before the ax fell.
My quess is the Liberty Media purchase of F1 opened their eyes and they see a storm on the horizon that they cant handle.

Brian

Wow, Really what series have you been a part of that most of your legacy points are a positive?
Lumping recently retired drivers of Gordon, Stewart, Edwards, Jr. etc. is not even remotely valid since the decline of NASCAR’s popularity started way back in 2005 and 2006, took a huge hit is 2008, 2009 and 2010 due to the economy, god awful race at Indy in 2008, poor decisions to keep changing the CHSE playoffs or whatever it was to be. As indicated by another commenter, NASCAR does not understand its fan base at all. We went though 40 decades of essentially the same championship format and deciding a season long champ, and have been through how many significant changes in 15 years since 2004? One can almost pinpoint every significant drop in ratings and attendance to specific decisions being made. 2004 the Chase, fans gave it a chance for a couple years and decided it was lame, the it was changed from top ten to top 12 only because the 24 car did not make the Chase field one year. Fans become disillusioned, then the 48 team takes full advantage of the rules and rattles off unprecedented success and mastery of the lame format and wins 5 “titles” in a row. Fans again are disillusioned. NASCAR “listens” to the fans but does what they want to anyway and spins it to this is what the fans asked for. No it was not it was a convoluted way of appearing to placate the fan base. Note it still has not worked.
Anyone ever think some of these driver retirements would not have happened if the sport was healthier?
Also, just because a person is CEO does not make them directly responsible for certain aspects that are actual good things. I would bet that Brain Fart has no clue how a HANS device works to save a driver from injury, has little concept of the physics behind SAFER barriers, and many of the “decisions” were from other folks that just needed to be signed off on. Think of it this way. The CEO of 3M had zero to do with the Post It note and you do not hear any industry folks blabbering on and on about its success is because of the CEO.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this potential sale review. I am guessing that the France family highly overvalues what it is actually worth. Heard some reports of 6-8 billion. Seems really high since what does NASCAR actually own? It owns no tracks, has few physical assets, does not come to the table with a lot of integrity due to past decisions and perceived bias.

Glen H.

“But France, take it or leave it, has made some incredible changes that have helped the sport grow.” Now that’s some funny sh*t right there. Ratings down, attendance down, car count down, team sponsorship down, team revenue down…..

How is that growth?

Capt Spaulding

Used surplus grandstand seating business has been setting yearly records.

rg72

Along with paint used to give empty seats the illusion of being occupied.

Upstate9fan

The biggest fault of Brian France was doing too much too fast that alienated the core fan base. The Chase/Playoffs were changes/tweaked too many times. It they had just left it alone since 2004, there would be a lot less bickering. The COT was also a disaster from a competition stand point (note: the Gen-6 is still a COT under the sheet metal). Finally, the changes to schedule alienated a lot of people, losing historic venue and going to 1.5 mile tracks. A lot of the that blame falls on SMI and ISC as well. My hope is that a new owner can reinvigorate the sport by making a lot of the tough decisions the Frances wouldn’t. My top priorities would be: shaking up the schedule, completely redesigning the car and do a better job of marketing.

Tony

The whole Gen-6 thing ticked me off for that same reason. They had a fancy name for it to cover for the fact that it was just a reskinned COT.

DoninAjax

I’m surprised Brian hasn’t voted himself into the NA$CAR Hall of Fame already for all he’s done for his product. And because he believes he deserves it and because HE CAN. It looks like he’s got this writer’s vote. Brian will say it’s brcause it’s what the fans want and he always listens to his fans.

This article was emailed to Brian and the writer is waiting by the phone for Brian’s call.

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