Race Weekend Central

Where’s Tony, Where’s Gene, Where’s Waldo?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Stewart-Haas Racing, a NASCAR Cup Series team that has scored 69 Cup wins and two championships with co-owner Tony Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014, now appears to be nearing the end. It’s been rumored for almost a year that SHR would a Cup charter up for sale, but all signs now point to SHR selling all four of its Cup charters.

From 12-win and 10-win 2018 and 2020 seasons, respectively, to potentially out of the series in just four years. How?

From a performance standpoint, NASCAR introduced new regulations on the wheel wells of the Cup cars for the 2021 season. The new regulations perhaps hit no team harder than SHR, as the team had the wind taken out of its sails on intermediate tracks across the board. The team was never able to recover to its dominant 2020 form, as Harvick won 21 races from 2018-2020, only to win two from 2021-2023.

From a personnel standpoint, both Stewart and Haas have more than just the Cup team on their plates. Haas F1 is now entering its 11th season of the Formula One grid, while Stewart is competing full-time in the NHRA and previously co-owned and drove in the now-defunct Superstar Racing Experience.

SHR’s performance started to slip in 2021, and there were two critical moments in 2020 that couldn’t have sat well with Stewart:

  • Ford did not allow Stewart to sign Kyle Larson; Stewart was a champion of Larson’s talent and wanted him to join SHR for years.
  • Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Ohio that Stewart owns, was removed from the Craftsman Truck Series schedule for the 2021 season; its 2020 date was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connect the dots, and these events coincided with the downturn in performance of SHR’s Cup team and Stewart branching out into other series like SRX.

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Of course, Stewart and Haas have the right to do as they please; they are not obligated to truncate everything else to focus on SHR. But race teams thrive on communication, and when Harvick ran practice and qualifying in Larson’s No. 5 car last Saturday (May 18), he didn’t shy away from the differences between Hendrick Motorsports and SHR.

“I heard from the owner twice in two weeks, so that’s different,” Harvick said.

“It’s interesting to see just the race shop and structure and the way that everybody goes about it differently,” Harvick continued. “There’s a million different ways you can do things, but I think the thing that sticks out to me about Hendrick Motorsports in general is it’s truly run like a business that is a part of an actual structure of how things flow and who you talk to. There’s just a depth of the business side and racing side. It’s deep. I think that is pretty eye-opening just from the structure for the whole thing. I like structure. That’s something that has been good to see. …

“The No. 4 team itself was very structured. We had a great group of people that communicated well and did a lot of little things well but also took the burden of some things that were probably not as structured within the organization. To be able to do those things and still run well was a burden, right, for all the guys on the team.

“I had a very special group of people that succeeded in a structure that wasn’t as structured in what we’re in in this situation (at Hendrick). I had a lot of success at Stewart-Haas Racing and all the things we did I’m super proud of and love the relationships that we have, but it’s just different, vastly different cultures.”

Harvick confirmed that Stewart and Haas aren’t as hands on or as involved as other teams are — at least for the past few seasons.

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Stewart, however, did address SHR’s recent struggles at the start of the season:

“Two years ago, first year with the new car, you might have an off-season trying to figure out a new product, but to have that bad of a season two years in a row, we will not stand for that and let that be the standard.

“If we’re not having the results we’re looking for, we’re gonna start making some major changes. Everybody knows that. Everybody understands that. It doesn’t mean we gotta go out and win eight or ten races this season, but we need to see the needle move in the right direction. We need to make progress.”

Complete with a new driver lineup and a team rebrand, there seemed to be plenty of optimism at the start of the year.

“I’m excited about the energy at the shop,” Stewart said. “We kinda had a rah-rah meeting, and I will say having four young drivers in the shop, as much as I was really nervous about it, I’m really excited about the energy that it’s brought to the shop.”

The news of SHR selling of its teams is all the more shocking when considering the new era that the team was about to enter.

Even more so when considering the strides that SHR has made in a post-Harvick world. At Darlington Raceway, Chase Briscoe told Frontstretch about how well all four teams were working together when compared to the past.

“I feel like over the off season, the drivers probably spent more time together,” Briscoe said. “Everything this year has been better from a standpoint of a team side of things. Not that we weren’t a team before, but we certainly were almost four individual teams than just one organization, and now I feel like we’re trying to really work more as one organization.

“The teams from the crew chief side, the driver’s side, even the crew guys’ side. There are times in the past where I felt like some of my crew guys maybe didn’t even know other crew guys inside the organization. But now we all kind of hang out. The No. 41 guys, the No. 10 guys, all of us kind of hang out and do different stuff together.”

Briscoe and Noah Gragson have five top 10s each in the first 13 races. Briscoe is 12th in points, while Noah is 19th despite 35-point penalty handed out at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rookie Josh Berry scored a season-best third-place finish at Darlington, and he impressed with speed at the short tracks of Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Ryan Preece also excelled at Martinsville Speedway, where he finished ninth.

But all those gains and all that comradery seem to have been torn apart by the team’s uncertain future, and the drivers themselves don’t know what if they have to search for new rides. And if they do, they can’t at the moment.

Meanwhile, with SHR potentially going out of business, it’s been radio silence from its two co-owners. Stewart appeared at both the Daytona 500 and the following weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but neither Stewart nor Haas have been seen at the track in the last several weeks. On Stewart’s Twitter/X account, with the NHRA season in full swing, nothing has been said about SHR’s 2024 season — aside from a sponsorship segment at Talladega — since Atlanta.

It’s an absolute shame to see one of NASCAR’s largest and winningest teams to potentially be out the door in such quick fashion, and the lack of direction at the top has certainly played a part. But for the drivers and all the crew members that work at SHR, they deserve an answer sooner rather than later if 2024 is truly the team’s last stand.

About the author

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Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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12 Comments
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Shayne

I read an article not long ago about NASCAR changing some rules to allow the France/Kennedy family (or their close relatives) to purchase charters.

If that’s the case, they’d probably get first dibs on SHR charters.

Christopher

NASCAR (which IS the France family) already owns all 36 charters. Teams do not actually own the charters they have. It’s more like a long term lease on a commodity that the teams can sell during their lease period.

Dale

Nope- it will be sold to Dale Jr. And backed by Honda who has already committed to creating a factory team in partnership with Jr motorsports

Christopher

I distinctly recall Tony Stewart, back in 2015-2016, slagging Brian Z. France for never being at the track, like BZF ‘s dad and grandfather were. Stewart just ripped him apart for being an absentee CEO. Ironic that Stewart has become the exact thing he always bitched about.

Jane doe

Exactly!!

Ellenjay

Chip Ganassi sold his NASCAR team and stayed in other top racing series. Stewart and Haas are leaving NASCAR behind as well, maybe. Let Denny and Harvick be the future.

Bill B

Did I miss something in the article? Is Harvick in line to start a team or buy SHR?
If not then his future is in the booth as a commentator, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ellenjay

I was thinking Harvick has a talent agency and he could move drivers among the charters.

Jane doe

That would be so awesome and it would set Keelan and Piper up as well

Jane doe

LP is in charge now

Carl D.

What I’ve learned about Tony Stewart is that he’s a generational talent and a hypocrite. Why the greats have to be jerks I just don’t know.

Christian Andrews

Are you crazy?
Who told you that? Your Mom? LOL

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