Stewart Haas crew chief Drew Blickensderfer: We have to get better

The No. 10 car has a new look but the whole team needs to improve in 2024

NASCAR: Cup Qualifying
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A lot is being made of the youth movement at Stewart Haas Racing with Josh Berry and Noah Gragson replacing Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola to join Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece.

It’s a different team than it was when it was headlined by Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. With that said, the past three years have not gone according to plan even with Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers spearheading the organization.

The team went winless last year, even with Harvick in his final season, and suffered a debilitating penalty with Briscoe and the No. 14 team.

Speaking on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, veteran crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who most recently worked with Almirola says the organization just needs to be better holistically before even applying expectations to the next generation stable of drivers.

“It’s always good to set expectations but they are different than what they were,” Blickensderfer told the station. “Realistically, the expectations the past couple of years should have been different at Stewart Haas than it was five or six years ago when they had Kevin, Clint and Kurt. That’s a heck of a lineup with race wins and veterans.

“We’ve kind of flipped the lineup the past couple of years and we’ve said that within the company. All of our drivers can win races. We didn’t have race cars last year that Kevin Harvick could win in. That as a company we need to fix.

“We are going to judge ourselves on that so we need to make our cars faster to help these young guys and the whole company.”

Blickensderfer drew a parallel to Hendrick Motorsports when they flipped the figurative page from the Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. era to Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson — something that took a little bit of time but has paid off.

Stewart Haas, like all the Ford Performance teams, gets a chance at a reset in 2024 with the new Mustang Dark Horse body style. Blickensderfer said SHR was behind Team Penske and RFK Racing on the pecking order because those two teams went to Phoenix for the winter test to start the month.

“We would have loved to have had them a month or two ago but we’re super excited,” he said. “We’re getting the Dark Horse into the Wind Tunnel. We feel like we’ve made our cars better the last half year and with this new body, we have a chance to make some more improvements.”

Why SHR is renovating and repainting the shop

“This time of year is slow for a lot of teams at the shop. We only have seven cars allowed per car number now, versus five years ago where we had 15. Getting the cars torn down and into the system and now we wait. We’re just now getting the first pieces of the Dark Horse so we can’t build cars yet. You want to wait until the last minute to build your Daytona 500 cars with every ounce of information you can get from the wind tunnel or CFD. We’ll wait for the first or second week of January to decide what’s going to the Daytona 500. So we’re taking this time to paint the shop, change it up a little bit. Our colors are that light blue and black and we had a red stripe that went all the way around the building. We looked at that and thought it was silly wanted to make it SHR colors. So we changed the stripe. We updated some things and made it look nicer than it was. Room is different now with the NextGen so we’re more efficient with that.”

On the departure of Aric Almirola

“I’m happy for the Almirolas, not just Aric, but the whole family — Alex, Abby and Janice. They love being at the race track. Janice grew up in a racing family. That’s all they know. The family wants to be at the race track but Aric wants to be home a lot more to go to Alex’s ball games or Abby’s plays and just be around. It’s easier with the Cup schedule now but it’s still a lot of commitment. He dabbled in retirement a year and a half ago. We knew at Stewart Haas this would be his last year. I think Aric Almirola, everywhere he has been, has been a class act. Everyone who has worked with him has enjoyed being around not only him but his entire family. I’m disapointed he’s not going to be in our fold. He brings a lot to the table, not only on Sunday driving the race cars but on Tuesdays being a leader and someone to show young drivers maturity and professionalism. We’re going to miss him at SHR but I’m excited for him because he started his career at Joe Gibbs Racing and was super tight when that family when he came up from Tampa. TO go back there and run a part-time schedule, in that 20 car, it’s going to be a beast with that driver lineup so I feel sorry for everyone in the Xfinity Series with that driver lineup. Aric came over for dinner the other night and he told me his schedule and I was like ‘oh, all the tracks you’re really good at and in a Gibbs car’ so that’s really nice. The family is coming over again for New Years so I’m excited for him and feel sorry for everyone who has to race against him on Saturdays.”

On working with Noah Gragson

“180 degrees different than what I’ve had. I think it might fit me and fit me even better. I’ve been around the sport a long time. I could be Noah’s father. I’m that age. He’s a young kid that I didn’t know anything about. I knew quite a bit earlier than most that this was probably going to happen. I started doing my research. A month and a half ago, I called Noah and told him this is probably happening, right, so talked a little bit and invited him over for dinner. I spent a couple of hours with him. What was this kid like? I saw this kid in 2022, set the world on fire and as a Cup guy, you watch on Saturday because you want to see excitement and drivers right up against the fence, winning races. I remember watching Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in Xfinity races a couple of years ago, and thought the same thing about Noah, that he was winning races at all the hard race tracks. He ran the wall at Homestead as good as anyone and did all the things you want to see him do to prove himself and move on to Sunday. Last year just didn’t work out but I did my research, had him over for dinner, got to know him and there is a couple of things that stuck out. The quality of human being. He is a good good person. He’s made mistakes in the past and he’s learned from them. Our job at Stewart Haas will probably will be easier than it would have been a couple of years ago of teaching Noah the professionalism you have to bring with you to race on Sundays like a Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson. No one though he didn’t have the talent but because of the things that happened to him, I think he was forced to take those, but he’s taken it upon himself to do those things and he has spent a lot of time the past month with my wife and I, and at the shop, and everyone wants him to succeed and enjoyed having him around. He is the total opposite of what I had before at the 10 car but it’s just a different challenge.”

Acclimating Noah to SHR

“Because not everyone is allowed to go to the race track anymore, we have to pick and choose which tracks certain engineers and crew members go to and we front loaded it because of that. We decided this guy needs to go to the first seven because we need to learn, when Noah says he’s loose, is that five or seven out of 10? What level loose and tight does he mean. We need to learn that really quickly. We’ll have some practices at Daytona. … We have to get through the Clash and 150s but we’ll go to the simulator in January and just run it like practice, comparing brake pads to what he likes, come down pit road and get our lingo down. I worked with Aric a long time at a lot of different places and knew what he meant when he said something. I could explain that to the engineers. … I could feel those things and you don’t know that until you show up on Sunday and the 5, 12 and 19 cars want to punch you in the mouth and take away the trophy from you. Until that happens, you don’t know how to react and until then you just have to prepare to the best of your ability.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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