COMMENTARY | Stewart-Haas Racing has everything it takes to be a top-notch team in NASCAR today, but none of it seems to be coming together. The team not only has the drivers to win races, but it also has the manufacturer and car support to have what should be some of the best cars on the track each week.
Here are five reasons why the team is not performing up to the standards it set this season:
The Generation-6 Car
All teams have to adjust to the new car and the way that it drives differently from the old car, but it seems like Stewart-Haas Racing is having a much harder time than most other teams in the garage. This is a career-worst start for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman's worst since joining SHR. The team's only top five finish up to this point in the season is Newman's fifth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. From that race on, Stewart and Newman have combined for five additional top 10 finishes in 10 starts each. That isn't something that is going to keep them in contention for the Chase or help them win a championship before everything is said and done.
SHR can only hope Stewart lives up to his reputation of a summer driver and the team finally figures out this new car. That brings everything to the next issue of Danica Patrick and whether or not she is really good for the team.
Patrick is an excellent driver in many ways and is showing a lot of potential to really break out into someone who could compete with the best of them in the future. Her move to Cup has come at a very bad time for the team as a whole and has led to poor performances.
By no means should Danica be expected to go out and finish well in every race her first year, but she hasn't even performed close to fellow rookie driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The argument can be made that he has been driving stock cars longer and is the two-time defending Nationwide champion, but that just further shows why Danica shouldn't be running at this level yet.
Stewart is having to spend a great deal of time mentoring Danica and showing her how to drive a car that she has very little experience in and was thrown into based off of her name and sponsor backing. This has made Stewart take time away from the start of his season, when he has been known to not be as good of a finisher. This is evident in the fact that since forming SHR in 2009, the only time he was outside the top 10 in points at this point in the season was when he was 18th in 2010.
Plain Bad Luck
Luck has had a lot to do with the SHR drivers not finishing up to their potential in races this year. At Talladega, Newman was having a good day when Kurt Busch's flipping-car landed on top of him and ended his day. That wreck also knocked out Patrick as well to hurt the team even further. So far this year, Newman has had three DNFs with Patrick accumulating two more.
Stewart may have finished every race, but he has still been caught up in his fair share of bad luck. Between getting caught up in minor wrecks and not having cars that are performing as well as his competitors, Stewart is on a very slippery slope just fighting to keep from falling any further.
After winning the championship with Darien Grubb in 2011, Stewart let him go in favor of Steve Addington, and all seemed well at the start of last season. It is shown now, though, that something is not clicking between these two anymore and changes need to be made quickly. Most of the blame should be put on Stewart to get out there and drive the car like we all know he can, but that can't be done if the crew isn't getting the job done in the pits and in pre-race setup.
Newman's crew chief, Matt Borland, has become this season's first two-time Moog "Problem Solver" award winner. So, it is evident that he knows how to get the job done to make sure that Newman keeps moving forward and making things happen on the track each week.
Tony Gibson, Patrick's crew chief, is doing all that he can to get Danica on the right track and make sure that she performs well each week. Also, their pairing, and Danica in general, is too new to really know if it is going to lead to good things in the future or if he is the right person for the job.
Balancing Being an Owner with Being a Driver
All of this is encompassed in the fact that Stewart has to balance being an owner with being a driver more than anytime before. He just added Danica to the stable, is adding Kevin Harvick next year, and is having to work harder with getting sponsorships for his cars throughout the season. Danica is the only driver up to this point who truly has a sponsor for the entire season. This has led Stewart to have to focus more of his attention on the owner side of the business, and this is taking away from his driver time.
This has led to the team as a whole not having its leader and the person who has really brought them all to where they are today. Newman and Patrick are not known for their great finishes or leadership abilities, and Stewart isn't there to help motivate them to attain better things and follow in his example.
Overall, Stewart-Haas Racing is in a state of flux and working to get back to the place that it needs to be to be successful. The team will find a way to finish the season out strong, but it doesn't seem like this year is going to be anywhere near what it expected before it started.
Matt Fitzgerald lives in Las Vegas and has been following NASCAR for 15 years now. He never misses a race and goes to as many as possible at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Danica Patrick
- Tony Stewart
- Ryan Newman