Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: How Does Stewart-Haas Racing Move Forward After Missing Out on Kyle Busch?

Ty Majeski finally adds his name as a NASCAR winner. Is he now a favorite at Phoenix?

It had been long journey for Ty Majeski to pick up his first NASCAR win. He had bounced around the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series from 2017 to 2020, and after an early dismissal from Niece Motorsports in 2020, Majeski joined ThorSport Racing for 2021 — not as a driver, but as an employee. Majeski was able to piece together a four-race schedule in 2021, and he was awarded a full-time schedule for 2022 after impressing in his limited starts.

It took five years, but Majeski finally found his footing at ThorSport this season. He had scored eight top fives in the 18 races leading up to Bristol Motor Speedway, and he had led 158 laps in the three races prior to last night.

All the puzzle pieces were put in place for Majeski on Thursday night (Sept. 15) in Bristol. Majeski had been a top-five truck for much of the night, and he made his lone pit stop under the lap 86 caution. After several leaders pitted at the end of stage two on lap 116, Majeski found himself in the top five with 84 laps remaining. He worked his way up to second early in the final stage, and he took the lead from Zane Smith on a restart with 45 laps remaining. Majeski then kept the field at bay for a final restart with 12 laps to go before cruising to his first Truck Series win.

It was a win that was years in the making, and with just three races to go in the Truck Series season, Majeski became the first driver to punch his ticket to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4.

More: Tracking the Trucks: Ty Majeski’s First Win Comes at Perfect Time

Majeski declined to do a burnout after winning, much to the chagrin of the fans in attendance. And although he never disclosed why he decided not to, the answer may lie with the Phoenix race more than a month down the road.

Majeski and the No. 66 team have been on rails on a run of short tracks that began four races ago. He led 71 laps and finished eighth at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) in July, and he followed it up with a third-place finish and 73 laps led at Richmond Raceway in August. The next short track race was Bristol, where he collected his maiden win.

With how good Majeski has been on short tracks, the No. 66 team is likely preparing to use the same truck for Phoenix. If that’s the case, it’s a no-brainer to preserve it for the biggest race of the season.

Majeski may not have the number of wins that Zane Smith and Chandler Smith have this season, but if ThorSport is bringing that good of a piece for the final race, he will be one of the biggest threats to win it all.

With Stewart-Haas Racing striking out in the Kyle Busch sweepstakes, where does the team go from here?

This year has been far from a perfect season for Stewart-Haas Racing, but the team has at least had a solid rebound with three wins in the first 28 races. In 2021, SHR had one win across all four cars combined.

With that said, the domination the team showed from 2014 to 2020 looks unattainable as time passes on. This weekend marks two years since SHR’s 10th and final win of the 2020 season, a number that now feels impossible to reach.

However, SHR had a chance to turn its recent fortunes around by signing Kyle Busch. When talks for a new Joe Gibbs Racing contract stalled for the two-time Cup champion and 60-time winner, it was the rest of the field’s opportunity to pounce on one of the most decorated free agents in recent memory. But it wasn’t just Busch the driver on the market, it was also Busch the owner. The team that signed Busch was likely to inherit Kyle Busch Motorsports as a developmental pipeline.

Unfortunately for SHR, Richard Childress Racing won the sweepstakes as Busch will be back with Chevrolet for the first time since 2007. Likewise, KBM will be a Chevrolet team for 2023 with, by all indications, a brand-new driver lineup.

And that’s where problem lies with SHR. Other than Kevin Harvick, they don’t have a star-studded driver lineup that can compete with teams like Hendrick Motorsports, JGR and Team Penske.

Aric Almirola has won two races in five seasons at SHR, and he is now back with SHR for another two years. Cole Custer won at Kentucky Speedway in 2020, but he has struggled to finish in the top 10 ever since. Second-year driver Chase Briscoe is the most promising driver of the three, as he led 101 laps in his first career win at Phoenix Raceway in March.

However, consistency has plagued Briscoe all year, as he only has four top-10 finishes in 28 races this season.

While Briscoe has a chance of being a future star, SHR would have been getting a present-day star in Busch. Failing to sign him is all the more frustrating when one considers that Harvick would have embraced having his former rival as a teammate in order to elevate SHR.

Harvick isn’t going to stay around forever, either. He turns 47 in December, and his contract is up at the end of 2023. What does SHR have after he calls it a career?

Not enough, and that is further exacerbated by SHR’s lack of a developmental pipeline. Their only car below Cup is the No. 98 Xfinity Series car for Riley Herbst, and he been winless since 2021 in a car that Briscoe won nine races with in 2020. SHR and Ford had a prime chance to get a fresh developmental pipeline with KBM, and they whiffed.

It doesn’t help that co-owner Tony Stewart has been noticeably absent for the team. He rarely shows up at the track now that he is busy with an NHRA Top Fuel team for his wife, Leah Pruett, and he also had to deal with driving obligations for the Camping World SRX Series in the summer.

For now, Harvick showed in August that he still has it with back-to-back wins. But when he retires, SHR will no longer be able to compete with Hendrick, JGR and Penske unless their current drivers take a huge leap in performance, or the team can hire new talent.

Saturday night is the cutoff for the Round of 12. How will everyone on the bubble fare?

With just one race remaining before the Round of 12 begins, the Bristol Night Race will be a 500-lap marathon to avoid elimination and win one of the most prestigious events on the Cup Series calendar. With Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace winning from outside the playoff grid at Darlington Raceway and Kansas Speedway, respectively, Christopher Bell is only driver locked in on points.

Heading into Saturday night (Sept. 17), the cut line is as follows: Chase Elliott (+28), Kyle Larson (+27), Ross Chastain (+26), Daniel Suarez (+6), Tyler Reddick (+2), Austin Cindric (+2), Kyle Busch (-2), Austin Dillon (-3), Briscoe (-9) and Harvick (-35). Everyone else has at least a 30-point cushion above the cut line.

For Harvick, even though he is still technically able to make the next round on points, the mission is clear: win. And while an almost must-win situation is a tall order for anyone, Harvick has done it in the past, and Bristol provides the best opportunity for him to do it again. He dominated and won the 2020 Bristol Night Race after leading 226 laps, and he was in position to repeat in 2021 before he had to settle for second after leading 71 laps. With Harvick scoring his second win of the season at Richmond, it is clear that he is up to task on short tracks this year.

From Suarez to Briscoe, there is no room for error. With the field that tight, it will take a solid top five, top-10 finish with some stage points to move on. It’s certainly a doable task for everyone on the bubble, but there is little space for mistakes. Missing out on stage points or a mediocre 15th-place finish may spell the difference between advancement and elimination.

As for Chastain and everyone else with a cushion over 25 points, they are likely safe as long as they are able to bring the car home in one piece, as that cushion will quickly evaporate if they are knocked out early and score single digit points for a finish in the 30’s. But with the nature of short track racing at Bristol, finishing the race isn’t a guarantee for anyone.

How did the 2023 NASCAR schedules turn out?

After several months of anticipation, the 2023 schedules for the top three divisions of NASCAR were released this week.

Other than the removal of Road America, the addition of the Chicago Street Course and the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, the only changes to the Cup schedule were a few date swaps, which includes a truncation of the spring Atlanta Motor Speedway race to 400 miles and returning the Saturday night race at Martinsville Speedway to Sunday afternoon.

Sunday afternoons have been a ratings hotspot for NASCAR, but summer temperatures remain a problem. Fortunately, Atlanta announced that its July race would be held Sunday night. Hopefully, other tracks in the summer will follow suit as well.

For the Xfinity Series, the biggest surprise was having eight road courses on the 2023 schedule. The six from 2022, including Road America, will return while the series make its debuts at the Chicago Street Course and Sonoma Raceway in 2023. Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway will both drop to one date to accommodate the new tracks.

With the amount of destruction caused at superspeedways, the teams will likely be breathing a sigh of relief with one Talladega date. Dropping Texas to one date is also a solid move as the new repave hasn’t been popular with fans. As for eight road courses, that will constitute nearly one-third of the schedule. Whether that is a feasible or excessive amount will remain to be seen until next year.

Speaking of road courses, several Xfinity teams complained about the travel expenses for the debut of Portland International Raceway in June. NASCAR responded by scheduling Portland and Sonoma in back-to-back weeks for 2023. That will give teams a west coast swing and the ability to stay out west for two straight weekends, which will cut down on the travel costs required with only one trip.

The Truck Series had the most positive changes in additions. IRP is back for 2023 after a successful return in July, while the Milwaukee Mile and North Wilkesboro will return to the schedule for the first time since 2009 and 1996, respectively. Two dates had to be taken off the calendar, and the series will say goodbye to Knoxville Raceway while the Sonoma race was transferred to Xfinity.

Knoxville isn’t a huge loss. The two Truck races at the track devolved into embarrassing crash fests, and the series already races on dirt at Bristol in the spring. On the flipside, bringing back Milwaukee and North Wilkesboro are huge pluses for the diversity of the series schedule, and it gives fans a nostalgic return to the Truck Series of old. It’s only fitting that Craftsman will return as the title sponsor next year.

However, the biggest disappointment is that the schedule remains too short with 23 races. There are too many long breaks within the season, and the number is well short of the 33 and 36 in Xfinity and Cup, respectively. A Truck schedule with 25-30 races would be beneficial down the road.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Mike Kalasnik

Never understood why the Truck schedule is too short. They take several awkward breaks in the season that results in no hope for momentum. 30 is probably too many, but 23 is too little.

kb

Oh lord. Time will tell if they “missed out”. Pffft

Charlie

As for the Kyle Bush sweepstakes, I do think SHR would have listened to Kevin Harvick a bit more, BUT, the owner, Gene Haas, a BILLIONAIRE, certainly has the money to handle it but something about the chemistry wasn’t right.
I hope everyone understands that GENE HAAS owns the team.. He makes the business decisions and he is probably one of the richest owners in NASCAR. Period, He finances an F1 Team. He could have easily signed Kyle Bush. So, what is it that “where does SHR go after missing the Kyle Bush” sweepstakes?

Echo

SHR is no longer a top tier team and without Harvick, they may not be a second tier team.

TCinAZ

Kyle Busch knew that the same thing that did in Evernham was threatening SHR. A skirt.

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