Tony Stewart’s pole for tomorrow’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is another sign that the newly expanded four-car squad at Stewart-Haas Racing is finding its stride.
Stewart in particular has been earning momentum in recent weeks with two Top-5s (fourth at Bristol, fifth at Fontana) in his last three races. But overall, SHR’s performance has improved markedly and they’re now sitting as the only team with multiple drivers effectively in the Chase after Kevin Harvick’s win at Phoenix and Kurt Busch’s win at Martinsville last week.
“I don’t think it’s any one thing,” said Stewart of his team’s resurgence. “Our cars have had speed. I mean, Kurt and Kevin have been qualifying well all year and this week, [the 14 team] had a good run. The good thing is it’s not just one team, it’s the whole organization is having a really good start as far as qualifying’s concerned.
“So, I don’t know if we can really point to one thing to be truthful…It’s early in the year, the atmosphere in our shop’s really good right now – it has been ever since the end of the season last year. It’s just a lot of new faces and with that, there’s kind of a new excitement around our shop and it seems to be translating to what we’re seeing on the race track.”
As for the early-season issues that SHR had to deal with – including a notably poor run for Stewart in Las Vegas due to car issues – “Smoke” said they were just byproducts of both the expansion of SHR to a four-car franchise and working with the new rules package.
“Everything that we did last year is kinda out the window and now you’re doing things that are totally different, and you’re not doing it for one car, you’re doing it for all four cars,” Stewart said. “There’s just been a lot of changes – obviously, adding the fourth team but changing things, set-ups from last year to this year.
“What happened to us in Vegas was something that nobody would’ve predicted would happen. The good thing is they found it when they got the car back to Charlotte, found what the problem was. We’ve learned those things early, so hopefully that won’t bite us later in the year.”
Harvick set a new track record in the first round of qualifying before winding up third on the grid for tomorrow’s race, while Busch also made the final round and qualified 11th (the fourth SHR driver, Danica Patrick, will start 24th).
In his post-qualifying comments, Harvick noted that Stewart’s pole was as “good as it gets for the organization” and that it was “a huge improvement” from where SHR was just a few weeks ago.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface as a team,” Harvick said. “We’re still trying to get all the cars built, everything organized, flowing exactly how it needs to flow in the shop with all the stuff that we’ve changed over the winter…Adding a whole new team and bringing in new crew chiefs.
“I think everybody’s getting their – as you can see with [Stewart] – just getting their feet on the ground and getting to where we’re competing for poles and competing for wins. Having speed in the car hasn’t been the issue for the 4 team as we’ve gone through the weeks, and we’ve just got a few things to clean up and things are gonna be coming together even better.”