Typically organizations rise and fall together. Throughout their history, that has not been the case at Stewart-Haas Racing.
And it does not seem to be improving in 2020.
A question that needs to be answered when considering SHR for your fantasy roster is where the balance is between driver and equipment. Joe Gibbs Racing has been dominant in recent years because they seem to have the balance right. Strong drivers in fast equipment are hard to beat. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have been more than capable of getting that power to the pavement. Denny Hamlin is typically strong and Erik Jones has shown flashes of speed.
But that has not been the case at SHR. Which means one of two things is happening. Either Kevin Harvick is getting faster equipment, or he is a substantially better driver than his teammates. Harvick has been part of the Championship 4 in each of the last three seasons.
In his first season with the team in 2014, he won the championship. He finished second the next year. That means Harvick has finished worse than third only one time since leaving Richard Childress Racing and it came in a season when he had a notably bad playoffs after a solid regular season in 2016.
And yet, the remainder of the organization has not been able to rise to his standard.
When Kurt Busch left the organization at the end of 2018, he did so with the belief that he was not getting equipment that was as strong as his teammates – specifically Harvick.
Clint Bowyer joined SHR in 2017. He finished 18th in the standings that year and has not been better than ninth since.
Aric Almirola had a solid season in 2018, his first with SHR. He finished fifth that year largely based on consistent runs and an average finish of 12.8. He finished on the lead lap 27 times in 36 races.
Almirola scored only one victory that year, however, and has been winless since. Last year he made the playoffs, but finished modestly in 14th among 16 drivers. His average race finish was 15.4.
Daniel Suarez lasted only one year with the team. He was released at the end of last season to make room for the rookie Cole Custer. Suarez finished 17th in the standings as the best among the non-playoff drivers. He ended the year with an average finish of 16.4.
Through four races of 2020, the early indications are that the pattern may be repeating itself.
Harvick currently has the points’ lead by one over Joey Logano.
Almirola is eighth in the standings, but at this point he is closer to 17th than he is to first.
Bowyer sits 13th; Custer is 22nd.
When one looks at some of the strength metrics, that pattern remains. Harvick has the fourth-best Driver Rating (103.1) and third-best Average Running Position (9.03).
Almirola is ninth in Driver Rating (85.5) and eighth in Average Running Position (12.40).
Bowyer is 17th in Driver Rating (73.6) and 20th in Average Running Position (18.03).
Custer is a rookie and not expected to run at the same level as his teammates, but his 24th position in Driver Rating and Average Running Position is worse than Suarez experienced last year.
The difference between Harvick and Almirola in terms of Driver Rating is 17.1% – and quite frankly, it is possible that he is simply that much better than his teammate. Harvick has more experience both inside the organization and in the Cup series as a whole. He knows what he needs from his car and is more-than capable of advocating for the changes.
But that in itself begs the question of why the organization has not been able to attract talent that is consistently capable of challenging for the top 10 in the standings. And it is hard to ignore the fact that there are only so many resources to go around. It would seem that Harvick’s leg up on his teammates may indeed start in the shop and get improved upon at the track.
Almirola’s tenure with the team has been short enough that one cannot discount his potential. After all, he has finished in the top 10 in the standings once in two tries. If he can slowly bridge the gap between himself and Harvick, the rising tide should lift Bowyer as well. Organizations need a good set of notes from every driver to improve.
Custer is a promising rookie with only a seven starts and a top-10 already to show for his effort. He will be reliant on his teammates for baseline setups and advice. All of that cannot be handled by a lead driver who is focused on making the Championship finale for the fourth consecutive year.
The best news for players is that based on their results so far, all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers are spread throughout the tiers. If the organization improves as a whole, each of them will be good fantasy values as games adjust to find their level water mark.