Stewart-Haas Racing has a murky future in the NASCAR Cup Series and on top of those questions, the performance has been significantly down compared to the other powerhouse organizations within the series.
Why is Stewart-Haas Racing at a crossroads and what should the team do to fix the issues?
Stewart-Haas Racing at ‘crossroads’ as Kevin Harvick is set to retire from NASCAR
Stewart-Haas Racing has been in the NASCAR Cup Series since the 2009 season but the organization was first founded by Gene Haas in 2002. Since that point, the team has won two Cup Series championships with Tony Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014.
However, it has been nine years since Stewart-Haas Racing’s last Cup Series championship and through three races of the 2023 NASCAR season, it looks like it won’t happen this year. With the performance down and the future lineup in doubt, there are major questions about the team’s future.
According to The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi, there is a definite sense that Stewart-Haas Racing is at a “bit of a crossroads” regarding its future in the Cup Series. This comes down to several different scenarios.
The first one is Harvick’s retirement which will take place at the conclusion of the 2023 season. As of now, the driver of the No. 4 car is the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver that has shown enough speed to be top-20 in the point standings.
It means the organization’s most fast and most consistent driver will be on the way out soon. Plus, Harvick’s sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, could be going out with him. The sponsor has been linked to a big move to Ross Chastain and Trackhouse Racing for the 2024 season.
If that takes place, Stewart-Haas Racing would need to find another sponsor which could hurt the level of talent that enters the No. 4 car next year. With an already weak free agency class, it would be a bad situation.
It could be even worse if Aric Almirola retires at the end of the season. Almirola was set to retire at the conclusion of the 2022 season; however, he decided to come back with Smithfield staying on board.
Almirola has not been committed to the 2024 season and if he retires, could Smithfield go out with him too? There could be a nightmare scenario where two drivers with two very big sponsors are gone in the foreseeable future.
All of this doesn’t even include the on-track struggles. As stated above, Harvick is the only driver in the top 20 spots of the point standings. Among Almirola, Chase Briscoe, and Ryan Preece, the best finish is 16th place by Almirola at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In fact, the trio of drivers only have two top-20 finishes combined while Harvick has a worst finish of 12th place during the Daytona 500. The results from Stewart-Haas Racing have been dreadful to start the new racing year.
There are inevitable changes coming to the organization no matter what and they need to end up being fantastic ones. Continue reading to find out how Stewart-Haas Racing should fix its driver lineup and performance problems moving forward.
Fixing the driver lineup and performance problems at Stewart-Haas Racing beyond 2023
Stewart-Haas Racing’s future in the NASCAR Cup Series is more unpredictable than any other organization and it is not even close. The team has a really massive year ahead as it tries to figure out what the future will look like post-Harvick.
That should be on top of the list for Stewart-Haas Racing. The first step is to find a replacement and hope Anheuser-Busch stays. They will also need a backup idea in case the sponsor leaves.
Zane Smith, the defending NASCAR Truck Series champion for Front Row Motorsports, should be the main target to replace Harvick in the No. 4 car. Smith, 23, is Ford’s best prospect, and placing him in one of the manufacturer’s best cars is ideal.
The 23-year-old driver for Front Row Motorsports would also have experience as he is competing in select Cup Series races this season. Smith would pair with Chase Briscoe as the future of Stewart-Haas Racing.
If Anheuser-Busch leaves and the organization needs a sponsor, a decent idea would be to elevate Riley Herbst, a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing’s NASCAR Xfinity Series program, if he has a good year.
Herbst, 24, would bring Monster Energy and help the sponsorship standpoint with hopes of increased development. This could also work for Almirola if Smithfield leaves when he eventually retires. The team has a young driver with sponsorship waiting for a chance.
With two drivers in the Ford camp as realistic options, Stewart-Haas Racing needs to look outside of the manufacturer pipeline. In fact, the team should try to pry Erik Jones from Jimmie Johnson and Legacy Motor Club.
Jones, 26, is a two-time Southern 500 winner and a Truck Series champion. Stewart-Haas Racing could convince the driver of the No. 43 car to jump over because Legacy Motor Club is behind other Chevrolet teams, such as Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing, and Richard Childress Racing.
It would allow Jones to flourish with better equipment. So, the current lineup for the 2024 season could have Smith in the No. 4 car, Herbst in the No. 10 car if Almirola retires, Briscoe in the No. 14 car, and Jones or Ryan Preece in the No. 41 car if the Legacy Motor Club driver jumps ship.
Stewart-Haas Racing could have a young lineup of Smith, Herbst, Briscoe, and Jones/Preece which would allow them to grow and reset. The first couple of years might be rough but it would be worth it.
Preece is set to be a free agent at the conclusion of the 2023 season and if he impresses, then maybe there is no need to pursue another driver like Jones. Fixing the driver lineup would allow new ideas and mindsets that would increase the overall performance.
There are several ways to improve the team but it truly depends on what happens with Almirola and its sponsors. Stewart-Haas Racing has a great opportunity to brighten the future if the right decisions are made.