JOLIET, Ill – It’s no secret, one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has been the decline or lack of success out of the Stewart-Haas Racing camp. Through 16 races run in NASCAR’s premiere series, SHR has been shutout of victory lane.
At this point last year, they had reached victory lane seven times. So, what’s changed? Other than a brand new racing package, not much. That’s why Aric Almirola says that the organization is a little surprised at how they’ve fared in 2019 thus far.
“That’s the hard thing about our sport it’s very cyclical,” said Almirola in the media center on Saturday at the Chicagoland Speedway. “Teams come and go. The teams that are on top today might not be on top tomorrow. Everybody just works so hard to chase whoever is on top. It’s hard to be king of the mountain week after week, year after year. Last year was a phenomenal year for us at Stewart-Haas Racing and for me personally. This year, we just haven’t outclassed the field like we did last year.”
Almirola, said that he watched last year’s race at Chicago on his flight to the track and thought it was crazy on how well they were.
“At one point in the race we were running 1-2-3-4. We did that a lot last year — had all four cars in the top-five or ran 1-2-3-4. Dover comes to mind. We ran 1-2-3-4 there.
“When you go back and look at those races, though, we actually gave them away. We ran 1-2-3-4 for a lot of those races but none of our cars won. So, when you look at the number of wins — I think we had 14 wins as an organization last year but we probably should have had 18 to 20. It was just a phenomenal year for us.”
Almirola, says that he thinks that the lack of success has the SHR camp working harder now than ever before. It’s not from a lack of effort he says. They just are struggling to put all the pieces together.
Despite that, Almirola does think that a win in nearing for them soon.
“I feel like we’re getting really close,” Almirola continued. “There are still some questions that we don’t have the answers to and some differing of opinions from track to track and week to week. That’s the really challenging part of this package.”
He’s right. On top of having seven wins at this part last year, they had also had 20 top five finishes compared to 13 this season. They also had 1,566 laps led compared to 491 in 2019.
But, where they are on par are top 10’s. They had 38 last year at this point compared to 34 this year. All four of their drivers are in the top 13 of the championship standings too. It’s just that they’re not as high up for wins like they were in 2018.
Almirola though, keeps positives as he looks at his stats alone and notes that he’s higher up in the standings heading to Chicago this weekend than where he was last year.
“When I look at last year versus this year, we’re a little higher in points and have had a little higher average finish than last year,” Almirola continued. “As an organization, though, I feel like we’re a little off from where we were. That makes me feel good about what we are doing inside the 10 team, just getting the most out of what we have.
“Last year I felt like being new to the organization and learning everything I felt like we were not making the most, especially for the first four or five months of the season. Then we got on track and were leading laps and running up front and challenging to win races, and then we did win and went on to do really well in the playoffs.
“That second half of last season was really good for us. Going into this season our expectations (were) higher and I feel like we’re doing a better job but we still have more to get — more growing pains and more learning each other. Last year as an organization we showed up with fast race cars every week. This year has been a little hit and miss. Learning how to go through some of these tough times as a team has been something new for us.”