Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Stewart-Haas Just Had its Best Performance in Almost 3 Years

For a Stewart-Haas Racing team that has struggled to find consistent speed since the start of 2021, Sunday’s (April 16) NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway had to have been a surprise.

SHR’s four cars had combined to lead 85 laps in the first eight races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. With the exception of Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team, everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong to start the new year.

This weekend, however, the four-car team put its early struggles aside and proceeded to have a monster race at Martinsville, as Ryan Preece (135), Chase Briscoe (109) and Harvick (20) combined to lead 264 of the 400 laps.

See also
Chase Overcomes Injury to Nearly Win Martinsville ... Briscoe That Is

Preece won the pole, won a stage and led the most laps, all for the first time in his Cup career. Harvick scored his first stage win since 2020 and led laps at Martinsville for the first time since 2016, while Briscoe’s 109 laps led marked his career high in a Cup race. While Aric Almirola never spent any time as the leader, he had an average running position of fifth and ended the day in sixth.

The 264 laps led out of 400 meant that an SHR car was pacing the field for 66% of the afternoon, which is a percentage that the team hadn’t reached since the second Dover Motor Speedway race in 2020, where SHR led 245 of the 311 laps (78.7%).

But of course, Harvick alone accounted for 223 of those laps led at Dover. The second-to-last race where SHR combined to lead more than two-thirds of the event was the second race at Michigan International Speedway Speedway a month earlier, where Harvick (90), Clint Bowyer (43) and Almirola (nine) combined to lead all but 14 of the 156 laps for a percentage of 91.0%.

So, yeah, it’s been a long time since SHR had that much of a presence at the top of the scoring pylon between all of its cars.

However, there are few, if not any, moral victories in NASCAR; all that matters is the trophy. Hendrick Motorsports only led 30 of the 400 laps on Sunday (all by Kyle Larson), but the team is more than happy to claim Martinsville clock No. 28.

Sunday was certainly a step in the right direction for SHR, nevertheless. But to have its highest-finishing car end up fifth on a day where they mopped the floor is not something to be overly celebratory about.

Martinsville by the Numbers

3: The number of on-track passes for the lead on Sunday.

  • Harvick p. Ross Chastain on lap 167, Denny Hamlin p. Briscoe on lap 257 and Larson p. Joey Logano on lap 371.
  • Three on-track lead changes equal the total in the 500-lap race last October.
  • Last year’s 400-lap race had zero on-track lead changes, the first such race at any track since 2019.
  • While there is still work to be done with short track racing in the Next Gen car, there has at least been improvement since the start.

29: The combined number of laps that Preece had led in his first 123 Cup Series starts.

  • Preece more than quadrupled that number with 135 at Martinsville, and had he not sped on pit road and lost the lead for the first time all day, that number might’ve been higher.

21: The average running position for runner-up finisher Logano.

  • Even with 25 laps led and spending the last quarter of the race inside the top 10, the loop data still reflected how much of the race Logano spent outside the top 25.
  • While a driver scoring a top-five finish with an ARP of 20th or worse is nothing new at superspeedways (in fact, Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did just that in February), it is far less common to achieve elsewhere.
  • Briscoe finished fifth at Texas Motor Speedway last year despite an ARP of 20. But beyond those two, I cannot even think of the last time somebody pulled it off at a non-superspeedway.

4.142: Larson’s margin of victory.

  • 4.142 seconds marks the fourth-largest Cup MOV at Martinsville since electronic timing and scoring began in 1993.
  • Both the 2020 races and the spring 1998 race were the only three with a higher margin.
  • When considering that Larson developed that gap in just 30 laps, it was an impressive display of dominance at the end.

9: The number of drivers that have made more than 800 starts in NASCAR’s highest level.

  • Martinsville was Harvick’s 799th start, and he will become to the 10th driver to reach 800 at Talladega next weekend.
  • Assuming that Harvick makes no future starts after retiring at the conclusion of 2023, he will end his Cup career with 826 starts, good enough for eighth all-time.

By finishing third on Sunday, Martin Truex Jr. recorded his first top-three finish in Cup since a runner-up finish in the 2021 championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

With Larson’s win, all four Hendrick drivers (Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott) have now won a grandfather clock.

Saturday (and Friday) Synopsis

198: The number of laps that John Hunter Nemechek led in his dominant win at Martinsville in Saturday’s (April 15) NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

  • It’s the most laps that a driver has led in an Xfinity win since Christopher Bell led 238 (of 250) in a win at Richmond Raceway in 2019.
  • With only a handful of Xfinity races longer than 200 laps, it is now a rare occurrence for a driver to lead this many on a given day/night.

5: The number of laps led by NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series polesitter Zane Smith and Xfinity polesitter Cole Custer.

  • Both drivers led the first five laps before getting passed for the lead on lap 6.
  • Coincidentally, both drivers finished their respective races in third place.

13: The number of Truck races that have been shortened by rain (or any other variable) in the series’ history.

  • With 673 races in the history books, only 1.9% of Truck races fail to reach the scheduled distance.
  • With the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway ended early by rain, 2023 joins 1996 as the only Truck Series seasons to have two rain-shortened races.

2: The number of lead changes in the Truck race at Martinsville.

  • In 124 laps of action, the only lead changes came on lap 6 and lap 43.
  • It’s the first Truck race to feature no more than two lead changes since the 2019 race at Eldora Speedway, which had one lead change.

All 36 trucks were running at the finish of Martinsville. This marks just the second time in series history that this has occurred, with the first being the 2022 race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: Martinsville Rain Hands Corey Heim 1st Win of Season

Up Next: Talladega Superspeedway

Cool, calm and collected, or utter chaos?

  • While superspeedway races have tended to devolve into demolition derbies in either the beginning, middle or end (but mostly the end), Talladega has been more orderly than Daytona in recent years.
  • For example, last October’s race saw only three cars retire from crash damage. And in some form of miracle, every car was running at the finish of the Xfinity race a day prior.

Beyond that one weekend last fall, less destruction in Cup races at Talladega has been a trend:

  • 2022 Fall: 3 crash DNFs
  • 2022 Spring: 10 crash DNFs
  • 2021 Fall: 6 crash DNFs (shortened by rain)
  • 2021 Spring: 4 crash DNFs
  • 2020 Fall: 13 crash DNFs
  • 2020 Spring: 4 crash DNFs

With 16 crash DNFs in the 2023 Daytona 500, Talladega looks tame in comparison. The track is also wider than Daytona, and that will give drivers more room to avoid contact with each other in a way that they can’t at Daytona.

But with that said, the fall 2020 race had several crashes and required 12 laps of overtime. Predicting the nature of this weekend might as well be a flip of a coin.

Drivers to Watch

Any driver that is in the lead draft with two laps to go and has a functioning automobile with four wheels.

Stay Tuned

The GEICO 500 at Talladega will take place on Sunday, April 23 at 3:00 p.m. ET. TV coverage will be provided by FOX.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Dawg

I still think what SHR needs the most is an engaged owner.

The first exposure I remember about Haas, was when he was sitting in prison, (no doubt of the Country Club variety) for income tax evasion.

He was apparently so inept at directing a NASCAR team, that he supposidly gave Stewart a half interest in the team to take over management.

That move seemed to have been a good one.

Now however, Haas seems to be content to be burning enormous piles of $$ to fund his F1 team which is in a fierce battle to stay out of last place.

Stewart seems to have a pretty full plate, with his Sprint Car series, FSX series, & now his new bride, & sudden interest in the NRHA.

It all makes me wonder who’s minding the NASCAR team.

I still see the Haas name on F1 even though they have landed a title sponsor. As well as sometimes the NASCAR teams, & full time on the Xfinity car.

Just speculation, but it sounds they might be set to lose the sponsorship from both the 10, & 4 cars upon the retirements of Almirola, & Harvick.

I’m happy to see them doing better, but the long-term outlook still looks suspect.

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