SHR's Mixed Bag

Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick

Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick ran well at Pocono but Busch finished third and Harvick placed 14th after a flat tire slowed him. (Photo: Getty Images)

Call it a Kodak moment even in this digital age. Near the halfway point of Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick ran together in the top three.

Only one finished there - Busch placed third - but the race marked among the first times this season that SHR has had three of its four cars so close to the front at the same time.

It could be a good sign heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Then again, with the way this season has gone for this organization, one almost wonders what will happen next.             

No team has had as varied results as Stewart-Haas Racing this season. Harvick has been the fastest car nearly every week but also been plagued by mistakes and misfortune. Stewart has had mixed results. Busch went seven consecutive races without a top-15 finish after his Martinsville win. Danica Patrick has not placed better than 23rd since her seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway last month.

Pocono looked as if things were changing for Stewart-Haas. Then Stewart was penalized for speeding on pit road and finished 13th. Harvick was second when he pitted for a flat left front tire and placed 14th. Patrick cut a left-front tire and hit the wall to finish 37th.

“It just hasn't been our year so far,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing. “It was encouraging to have all four cars have speed all weekend. We've had one or two or three, but never all of them.’’

It also helped having Hendrick engines, which took six of the top 10 spots at Pocono. Zipadelli said how well his team ran, though, wasn’t all just about the engines.

“I think our racecars were good,’’ he said. “There was a lot of the day when they ran one-two-three. So, I feel like our team has done a good job and they've built really good cars. We've just got to figure out how to close the deal."

Harvick could have maybe five wins this season but a litany of problems have struck.

  • Suffered a broken left front hub while running second at Las Vegas.
  • Lost an oil line and then hit the wall while running fourth at Bristol.
  • Had a tire go down two different times while running in the top five at Auto Club Speedway.
  • A chain broke on the rear end at Martinsville and he still finished seventh.
  • Lost the lead at Kansas during the last round of green-flag stops when his car ran out of fuel.
  • A loose wheel forced him to pit while running second at Charlotte, putting him a lap down. He later got the lap back but not the track position.
  • Had a tire issue while leading at Dover and lost two laps after making the stop. 
  • And then came the flat tire at Pocono.

How does Zipadelli explain Harvick’s misfortune?

"I try not to think about it too much because it gets frustrating and because I really don't think there's an answer to it,’’ he said.

There could be an answer to SHR’s performance this weekend. Just as the Hendrick engines were strong at Pocono, they should be as strong at Michigan. At Auto Club Speedway, a sister track to Michigan, Hendrick engines took four of the top six spots.

Another solid performance could help Busch’s team.

“For each (SHR) car ... this is the point in the season where each one starts to build its own identity, and for my team, as young as we are, this is the type of finish that will help boost the confidence up,’’ he said after placing third at Pocono.

“The meeting we had last week, we all had to look at one another and say, “Are you willing to step this up? Are you willing to put in the extra hours? Are you willing to go the extra mile to make this happen?’ Everybody said yes, and when you cash in on a top‑five run after that, that really builds everybody's self‑esteem up, so I'm looking forward to it.’’               

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