Team Preview: Stewart-Haas Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer will join SHR’s Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in 2017. (Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing)

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The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will bring many new beginnings for Stewart-Haas Racing as Clint Bowyer moves in to replace the retired Tony Stewart in addition to the team switching manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford.

Stewart-Haas Racing returns veterans and perennial championship contenders Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to the team as well as Danica Patrick, now in her fifth full season at NASCAR’s top level. Bowyer is the new addition to the team after spending a lackluster 2016 with the now defunct HScott Motorsports, replacing Stewart who now moves into full-time NASCAR owner mode.

Stewart-Haas Racing officials announced early at the start of the 2016 season the move from Chevrolet to Ford for 2017, with engines coming from Roush-Yates, bringing with it questions from fans and media asking if leaving a manufacturer that SHR had many years of success with was the right decision.

“We were getting great support from Chevrolet but there’s things Ford was able to offer that we weren’t able to get from Chevrolet,” Stewart said. “You don’t make a change like this without doing your homework. It took over six months to make this decision. Ford came to us and expressed interest. After the second meeting I realized how serious they really were about this and I realized very quickly this was something to take very, very seriously.”

And while Stewart-Haas Racing got its first on-track experience with Ford was at an open NASCAR test at Phoenix Raceway last month, Stewart knows there’s still a learning curve before cars hit the track at Daytona this weekend.

Stewart-Haas Racing“A lot of the tools that we use are different than what we had before so we’ve had to switch a lot of things,” Stewart explained. “Listening to Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, VP of Competition) that process has gone much smoother than what we thought. When you get cars on the racetrack it’s still the same process you go through of getting the balance right and working through the problems. I feel like our teams are ready for that.”

As for the retired NASCAR driver Stewart, his goals for 2017 is to help his four teams each week as much as he can.

“It’ll be nice to be at the track and really focus on what’s going on and move around and listen to each car and what they’re fighting during the day and hopefully I’ll have some input that’ll be able to help them,” Stewart said. 

Bowyer was named Stewart’s replacement in the No. 14 machine in the fall of 2015, days after Stewart announced his own retirement. After a tumultuous year driving for HScott Motorsports where Bowyer scored a career low three top-10 finishes, he’s eager to get behind the wheel of an SHR machine in a ride that he knows he can win with.

“It’s fun to get back here and get in the swing of things,” Bowyer said. “Love my team. What an amazing opportunity. Two champions for teammates to bounce setups, strategies off of. Danica brings so much to the team and our sport. You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than what lies ahead for me. I’ve been waiting on it a long time.”

Given Bowyer’s recent struggles on track he’s eager to return to Victory Lane, somewhere he hasn’t been since 2012, but he acknowledges he’s got to become a consistent car before that happens.

“You’re not given anything in this series. You’re only as good as the people around you everyone at Stewart-Haas has surrounded me with great people,” Bowyer said. “From Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) to my teammates to the sponsors, everything at Stewart-Haas is lined up to win races. Will it be special? Yeah. I’ll embrace it. Success only makes you hungry for more success. It’s been a while, but more importantly I want to get established as a consistent front runner. We’ve got to get consistent week in and week out and perfect that and then you’ll win races."

Kevin HarvickHarvick won the Cup Series championship in 2014 in his first season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing and has become one of the most consistent drivers in the sport, notching four wins and 27 top-10 finishes last season.

The 2001 Rookie of the Year will once again be paired with crew chief Rodney Childers in the No. 4 machine and is eager to begin a new era working with the new manufacturer.

“I don’t think the challenge for me will be that big. I think the undertaking the company has taken to switch everything over has been tremendous,” Harvick said. “They’ve done a good job in the planning of it. But there’s a lot of new tools and parts and pieces that we haven’t raced with before and don’t have 100 percent understanding of where we are and what we have. To overcome not knowing you have to get on the racetrack.”

Harvick participated in an open test at Phoenix Raceway last month - SHR’s first official on-track test with Ford. Harvick, an eight-time Phoenix winner - said it was a good place to get on track with a new manufacturer for the first time.

“The biggest thing is we have a starting point,” Harvick said. “There’s not a lot of guessing. You know what’s going on and where you’re at, and going around the racetrack is what we needed to be doing so that we knew where to work from."

Harvick is also ready to tackle the new enhanced race format that will debut next week with the Can-Am Duel and Daytona 500.

“I think for us it is just what we’ve done the last several years. You need to be accountable for every lap. That’s our job to go out and get the most out of it,” Harvick said. “There are some pretty big carrots out there to go out and get some points and I think that’s gonna change the strategy for the race. That’s gonna depend on a lot of different scenarios of how you’re running and where the caution falls. If you don’t race aggressively you’re gonna get behind on points pretty quick.”

Kurt BuschBusch won the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship driving a Ford with Roush-Fenway Racing and spent a total of six years with the manufacturer, going to Victory Lane 14 times.

“It’s a special homecoming feeling to head back to work with Ford with our power and our bodies at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Busch said. “It’s neat to come back to a place that I’ve seen the faces before and the way the structure has been polished up on and more depth with Ford Performance.” 

Busch is ready to climb back behind the wheel of a Ford and has already seen the energy his team has brought into the new season and isn’t worried about a lack of seat time.

“The teams have more depth. There’s more simulation. The notebook has been gone through by the lead engineers and they’ve prepared it as best as possible before we show up,” Busch said. 

“We’re going all in right away. There could be a bug or two here or there,” Busch said. “What I’ve seen is the engineers had the tools they’ve used from GM the last decade and here they are switching to Ford. It’s like a kid going into first grade. They’re excited, they know what’s going on and now they have new tools to play with.”

Patrick may be the biggest question mark for the 2017 season. Now in her fifth full-time season at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level, her career statistics fall far short of the star power she brings to the sport. With sponsorship woes coming to light in recent weeks, 2017 may be make or break for the former Indycar star. (Sponsorship Update: Aspen Dental Becomes Patrick's Lead Sponsor)

“The goal is to do better all the time. Hopefully some of the things that have changed within our team will open up some opportunities and possibilities and some potential for the team,” Patrick said. “Hopefully there’s more room to improve now. I’m optimistic and hopefully it’ll be something that makes a difference."

Danica PatrickPatrick’s ultimate goal is obviously to win in NASCAR, something she has yet to do since moving from open wheel to stock cars in 2010. She knows it’s still a step-by-step process to get in contention to win.

“The goal is to finish in the top 15 every weekend and you do a little better and once you’re in the top 10, good pit stops, good strategy some of the new formats for the races can play into segment wins,” Patrick said. “I think it’s important to be realistic so to go out and win races and segments is not something necessarily I think is going to happen right away. We’ll assess how strong we are as a team.”

Patrick will continue to rely on her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing to try to improve.

“It’s a great thing when your teammates are fast. It’s just a matter of how to get there. NASCAR is very hard. There’s definitely a great amount of experience around me,” Patrick said. "The more experience I get the better I’ll be at being prepared to do well but beyond that I have resources, which is always a positive."

Motor Racing Network will air a special edition "2017 Season Setup" preview show on Monday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. (ET). Daytona International Speedway will open for NASCAR teams on Friday with the season-opening Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of "The Great American Race" beginning at 1 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.

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