In 2014, Kevin Harvick turned the entire infield at Homestead-Miami Speedway into a yellow cloud of dust as he captured his first title of his career. The result was a second championship in four years for Stewart-Haas Racing, more than any team during that span.
Not too shabby an opener for Harvick in his debut season with SHR. 2015 is already proving it’s no fluke: Harvick sits atop the chase standings and leads NASCAR in wins as well as top-10 and top-5 finishes.
What’s different this season is Harvick has an equal on the track. An equal teammate at that: Kurt Busch, who returned from suspension after allegations of domestic abuse by ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, has been on fire for Stewart-Hass recently too. His life off the track is turbulent, but on the track Busch looks dominant.
Not every driver at SHR is enjoying success, but the top-two teams are clearly ahead of the rest right now. That was evident on Sunday when Busch and Harvick finished first and second, respectively, and clinched Chase spots for two cars in the Stewart-Haas stable.
That type of power had me wondering: What puts the two SHR cars so far above the field? It’s not every single weekend they roll into Victory Lane, but when out front both drivers look unstoppable.
The Engines: Partnered with Hendrick Motorsports, SHR has a deal that guarantees speed on a weekly basis. Hendrick builds the engines for the four-car team along with their own machines and Chip-Ganassi Racing. All in all 10 cars have a Hendrick engine under the hood. Three have won this season, following Busch’s blistering of the track at Richmond.
Today marks win No. 5 for our engine department this season. 🐎🔌🎉 pic.twitter.com/sJKXdGlyAZ
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) April 26, 2015
Six of those cars also make up the top 10 in the traditional points standings and seven are currently on the Chase Grid. That’s called owning a leaderboard. It won’t end any time soon with myriad Hendrick and SHR drivers enjoying success at Talladega.
Not every driver has looked superior with Hendrick under the hood. Two drivers — and big names at that — are struggling just to stay relevant this season. Tony Stewart is sitting a staggering 30th in points and Danica Patrick keeps fluctuating in and out of Chase contention.
The Crews: Each week is a grind for every driver and their entire team, but the top SHR crews look locked in. Harvick wouldn’t be racing in the top two nearly every single week without crew chief Rodney Childers. Busch wouldn’t have driven to Victory Lane on Sunday if not for the resilience of Tony Gibson, who rallied through kidney stone from the week prior.
We know Childers can bring a championship to SHR with Harvick behind the wheel. Now that Gibson has switched from the No. 10 to the No. 41 team, he’s showing what he can do with a former champion in the driver’s seat.
“I mean, it starts with building a fast race car back at the shop and coming to the racetrack and fine tuning it,” Busch said after Richmond. “… And that’s what Tony Gibson did, along with Johnny Klausmeier, our engineer. Everybody chipped in. For us the last few weeks, we’ve not given away wins, but we’ve made some small mistakes and we’ve had some things go against us that it made us stronger.
“One win is great; I want four or five more.”
Both teams are clicking on all cylinders early in the season. Now that they already have berths into the Chase, they could just rest on their laurels. But that’s not how Busch or Harvick will deal with the remainder of the regular season. It’s what makes them great.
The Drivers: Remember the start of the season? Sure, Harvick was doing his thing by running up in the top two every race, but the No. 41 wasn’t anywhere close. When Busch wasn’t behind the wheel, the Gene Haas car was nudging at the top 20, but wasn’t a true contender.
Since Busch returned, he’s already collected three top-five finishes over six races and won in Richmond. Even at Martinsville, Texas and Bristol—tracks where he didn’t finish close to the front—Busch led a combined 164 laps.
The most impressive stat of all is that he’s neck-and-neck with Harvick over that span. In the last six races, Harvick has 223 driver points. Busch has 222. In total, they have led 1,472 of 3,061 laps—more than 48 percent of the total laps ran in 2015. Joey Logano put it simply when talking to Jeff Gluck of USA Today in Richmond.
The answer is there’s no individual component — engines, crews, drivers — that creates success for Stewart-Haas. The word team exists for a reason. A combination of all three aspects, each operating at a high level, is what’s got SHR currently commanding the field and poised to kick up another yellow cloud of dust.
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