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?
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.
I'm having the time of my life right now… on the track and off. Thanks for the opportunity, Smoke and thanks to all of you guys for coming along for the ride. 👍 pic.twitter.com/sUK8MToRFx
— Aric Almirola (@Aric_Almirola) May 9, 2018
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.