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Stewart-Haas Racing drivers press on despite impending closure, uncertain futures

Stewart-Haas Racing drivers press on despite impending closure, uncertain futures

MADISON, Ill. — Sixty-nine wins. Sixty-two pole awards. Two championships. Stewart-Haas Racing has always been a place where racers go to race.

Tony Stewart met with Chase Briscoe, Josh Berry, Noah Gragson and Ryan Preece on Tuesday to inform his drivers that he and co-owner Gene Haas have opted to close the team down following the 2024 season’s conclusion. Afterward, he met with the team‘s crew chiefs before gathering the entire company together to inform it of the news.

MORE: Stewart-Haas Racing to close operation at end of 2024 season

The drivers called the week “emotional.” All four have been added to a busy free-agent market, along with hundreds of crew members and employees.

“I know how much people have invested with their time and careers at Stewart-Haas and being there for years upon years,” Gragson said. “It‘s definitely an emotional week, challenging week for our organization.”

One of those key people is Rodney Childers, the crew chief of the No. 4 who joined SHR ahead of the 2014 season. He kicked off his tenure at SHR in grand fashion by winning five races while calling the shots for Kevin Harvick en route to the team‘s most recent championship.

Employees — like most of the Cup Series garage — had heard rumblings about the future of SHR for months. As Childers explained, “normally, when there are rumors, there‘s truth.”

“We all started making conversation a month or two ago about what-ifs and all of that,” Childers told NASCAR.com. “My group has been good with it. It sucks for sure, but they‘ve been good with all of it. They know that we have a good group and we will be able to go find a home somewhere else. Everything happens for a reason. It will work out.”

The impending closure will lead to distractions, the team explained. It‘s entirely possible that some crew members depart the team prior to the conclusion of the 2024 season which will be a disturbance to the race team as it attempts to get into and hopefully advance in the playoffs. Currently, all four of its cars are on the outside looking in, though Briscoe is 17th on the playoff grid, just 11 points below the elimination line.

MORE: The Field of 16: Projecting the Cup Series Playoffs entering Gateway

“It is kind of scary knowing the position we‘re in right now right on the (elimination) line and knowing that all of our employees are taking job interviews at different places,” Briscoe said. “If those people wanted to start, there‘s nothing stating that they can’t start working there. It‘s going to be difficult as a company.

“I do think the (No.) 14 guys are committed to sticking it out. They had a lot of other offers over the offseason, and we thought we had something special amongst the camaraderie.”

Briscoe has been able to chug along and be in playoff contention despite the unknown status of SHR, though he believes the chatter of SHR‘s future has been a distraction.

“Every other team in this garage, all they talk about is how they‘ve got to go fast that weekend,” Briscoe stated. “Our team is talking about what jobs are available, how am I going to feed my family and, oh yeah, we‘ve got to get the car ready for Gateway this week. It‘s a distraction, 100%. We can‘t control what we can‘t control, right? We‘ve got to keep doing what we can do and all we can control is trying to bring the best car we can with the circumstances we‘re given and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

MORE: Briscoe to start 23rd; see full Gateway lineup

Gragson, who has made a spirited charge up the championship standings over the last two months, is thankful for his opportunity with SHR this season. Despite being with the team for less than half a year, he‘s fit in nicely by taking the No. 10 Ford to new heights in 2024, already matching the top-10 total from past driver Aric Almirola last season.

“I told Tony that I‘m extremely thankful and grateful for you taking a chance on me and giving me an opportunity to reinvent myself and reprove myself,” Gragson explained, “and if it weren‘t for you, I wouldn‘t be in this position looking for opportunities. I (would) say there‘s not much bitterness from me, personally. I‘m extremely grateful that Stewart-Haas gave me an opportunity to go out there and prove myself.”

Berry knows the situation is less than ideal, but he has also been fighting his entire career just to make it to the Cup level. Now, he‘s facing the next hurdle.

“I think back to some advice that Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. gave me over a year ago around the time I was driving the 9 car (in place of an injured Chase Elliott) and everything was going on,” Berry reflected. “I was like, ‘Man, I‘m so tired racing for my life every lap, every practice, every qualifying session’ and he said, ‘That‘s when you are at your best.’ That‘s what we will plan on doing the rest of the year.”

The discussion surrounding the four SHR drivers and the crew members will be what their next gig looks like. While none of them know exactly what they are doing in 2025, it‘s imperative for all of them to continue performing on the race track.

“You could be on a three- or four-year guaranteed deal and you‘re still auditioning for whatever the next deal is,” Briscoe said. “It definitely heightens that a lot more when you know you don‘t have anything for next year. You have to go out there and run good.”

Whatever the next moves are for Berry and Childers, they are hoping to move together. Childers stated, however, that his phone was ringing off the hook throughout the week.

“I‘ve been extremely fortunate over this week,” Childers said. “Every day my phone has gone dead by 1 (p.m.). Normally, it lasts all day, and it hasn‘t lasted until about 1 every day. There is a lot to work through, a lot of people to talk to and that takes time. I would rather get something done sooner than later. I really want to look after my guys, look after Josh.

“If there was a possibility to stay with Josh, that would be key for me. He‘s an amazing talent and deserves to be in this garage. I would love to see him get in a good car and myself and some of the guys go with him.”

Berry agrees wholeheartedly.

“That‘s without a doubt the number one focus on my mind right now is to find a way to keep racing with Rodney and this entire 4 group,” he said. “Given everything we‘ve been dealing with, we‘ve been progressing week in and week out. I think that the culture that Rodney has created there is second to none.”

Since SHR formed in 2009, only Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske have won more championships. The team also ranks fourth in total wins, top-five finishes (339) and laps led (19,819).