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Dr. Diandra: Numbers document Stewart-Haas Racing's demise

Stewart-Haas Racing’s announcement that it would close at the end of the 2024 season wasn’t much of a surprise. The statistics show a clear picture of a team that would require multiple seasons to rebuild into a championship contender.

Stewart-Haas Racing: 2009-2024

Assuming no personnel changes during the remainder of this season, by the time the checkered flag flies at Phoenix:

  • A total of 20 drivers will have run 1900 races under the SHR banner.

  • Kevin Harvick ran the most races of any SHR driver with 360.

  • Max Papis ran the fewest: a one-off at Watkins Glen in 2013, subbing for Tony Stewart. Stewart had broken his leg in a sprint car accident

  • Stewart himself drove the second-largest number of races with 262.

  • Together, Stewart and Harvick ran almost a third (32.7%) of the 1900 races

  • Aric Almirola, who departed at the end of 2023, ran 216 races.

  • Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick each ran 180 races.

With 22 races left in the 2024 season, SHR drivers have run a total of 515,562 laps and led 19,819 of them. Harvick accounts for 11,632 of those laps led or 58.7% of all laps led by the company to date. Harvick led 12% of all the laps he ran for SHR. Stewart led the second most number of laps with 2,583.

SHR excelled with veterans, less so with newer drivers

The graph below shows the average finish for each driver who ran 14 or more races for SHR. The top-five drivers are all veterans who came to the company with sturdy, if not stellar, records. Three out of the five joined SHR already having won a Cup Series championship.

NBC_2024_05_SHR_avg_finish_bydriver.png
NBC_2024_05_SHR_avg_finish_bydriver.png

SHR’s weakness is mentoring new drivers. Danica Patrick, the first full-time non-veteran driver SHR hired, has the worst average finish of any driver who ran 14 or more races.

SHR booted Daniel Suárez, the sixth best driver on this graph, in favor of Cole Custer. Custer managed only a 20.4 average finish in 108 races.

One contributor to the lack of a talent pipeline is that SHR didn’t have its own Xfinity program until 2017. They’ve won 22 out of the 294 races they’ve run there, with Custer winning the 2023 championship. SHR’s 7.5% Xfinity win rate is double their 3.6% rate in the Cup Series.

But a team serious about winning races, much less championships, cannot leave driver development to the drivers. The current SHR drivers started their own study group to help improve their performance. That’s something that should be done by the team or even the manufacturer.

Finishes worsened as veterans retired

Veterans don't need much mentoring. They wouldn't have lasted long enough to become veterans if they did. That's reflected in SHR's performance record.

The graph below shows Stewart-Haas wins by year. Recall that SHR won the Cup Series championship in 2011 (Stewart) and 2014 (Harvick, in his first year with the company.)

NBC_2024_05_SHR_wins_finishes_by_driver.png
NBC_2024_05_SHR_wins_finishes_by_driver.png

At a surface level, you might interpret this graph as suggesting that the team has only fallen off for the last few year. It's important to note that Stewart and Harvick were the team's prime movers.

Stewart was responsible for all four wins in 2009. In 2011, Stewart accounted for five out of the team’s six wins. Stewart won only once in an injury-abbreviated 2013 season and the team totals reflected his absence.

Harvick arrived with a bang, accounting for five of the team’s six wins in 2014 and winning the team's second championship.

Harvick accounted for the majority, if not all, of the team’s wins each year he drove at Stewart-Haas Racing. Even in 2018, when all four SHR drivers won at least one race, Harvick won eight of the 12. Harvick scored nine out of the 10 SHR wins in 2020.

The 2018 and 2020 seasons were SHR’s best years performance wise. Those were also Harvick’s best years with SHR in terms of wins. Yet Harvick ended up third in the championship standings in 2018 and fifth in 2020.

Recent history trends in the wrong direction

The team’s last four years have been the worst in its history in terms of performance. SHR wins dwindled, with the exception of 2022, the first year of the Next Gen car, when 19 different drivers won race. But even Harvick couldn’t win in 2023 when Ford struggled with an aerodynamic deficit.

The picture is even grimmer when top-five finishes are considered. The company fell from a high of 42 in 2018 to just 13 last year. With the 2024 season over a third of the way complete, SHR has just three top-five finishes.

NBC_2024_05_SHR_top-five_finishes_by_driver.png
NBC_2024_05_SHR_top-five_finishes_by_driver.png

NASCAR pundits attribute SHR’s decision to close to multiple factors: owners losing interest in the team or in NASCAR in general, the difficulty of landing sponsorship and uncertainty about the charter arrangement in the still-unsettled NASCAR/team negotiations.

The numbers show that, even if SHR were to continue as a smaller team, they would face a multi-year rebuilding process. Stewart and Gene Haas have other irons in the fire. Unless they wanted to make SHR their top priority, selling their charters and closing is likely the best decision for them.

What it means for the sport remains to be seen.