Editor’s note: NASCAR.com continues its countdown of team previews for the Monster Energy Series season, ranked in order of best finish in last year’s owner standings. Today’s features Stewart-Haas Racing and drivers Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez.
Engine: Roush Yates Engines
Drivers: Kevin Harvick, No. 4; Aric Almirola, No. 10; Clint Bowyer, No. 14; Daniel Suarez, No. 41
Crew chiefs: Rodney Childers (Harvick), John Klausmeier (Almirola), Mike Bugarewicz (Bowyer), Billy Scott (Suarez)
2018 standings: Harvick, third in final standings (advanced to Championship 4); Almirola, finished fifth in standings (eliminated in Round of 8); Bowyer, finished 12th in final standings (eliminated in Round of 8); Suarez, finished 21st in final standings (with Joe Gibbs Racing)
What’s new: Daniel Suarez moves to the No. 41 Ford Mustang after two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 19. Suarez replaces Kurt Busch, who will move over to Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 effort after five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. During his time at JGR, the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion racked up four top fives, 21 top 10s and one pole. The 27-year-old Mexican-born driver is looking to revitalize his career with what he feels like is a second opportunity at success with the Tony Stewart-led organization.
The brand-new Ford Mustang is also another change for the teams this year. Following the Organizational Test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the beginning of February, it appears SHR may already have a good grasp on the new model and 2019 rules package as Clint Bowyer finished in the top seven in all three sessions of the two-day affair.
Outlook: Last season, Stewart-Haas Racing landed all four of their drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs — with all of them made it through to the Round of 8. Coming off of a 12-win year, SHR will be another top favorite, along with Joe Gibbs Racing and championship-winning Team Penske. There’s the potential for some growing pains with the new Ford Mustang, but the chances are unlikely between the depth of driver talent and engineering prowess at the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based shop. Although Suarez is still searching for his first career win at NASCAR’s highest level, look for all four drivers to be major threats for playoff contention this year.
Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Busch Beer Ford: After making the Championship 4 in 2018, expect Harvick to pick up right where he left off. The Rodney Childers-led No. 4 squad earned eight of SHR’s 12 wins last year and we should expect more of the same in 2019.
The 2014 champion started out last season strong, winning three races in a row (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix). It wouldn’t be a surprise if he did more of the same over the next few weeks, including the potential of adding a second Daytona 500 victory to his resumé on Feb. 17. Look for Harvick to earn a win to lock himself in the Playoffs early, continue to rack them up throughout the regular season and make a Championship 4 appearance for the third consecutive year.
Aric Almirola, No. 10 Smithfield Ford: Although we didn’t fully know what to expect out of the Almirola in his first season with the organization, the No. 10 team came out of the box strong at Daytona last year, coming within two corners of winning the Daytona 500 before getting taken out by Austin Dillon on the white-flag lap. But Almirola’s superspeedway prowess eventually paid off, scoring his second career Monster Energy Series victory in the fall race at Talladega to lock himself into the Round of 8.
Almirola is more determined than ever to build off of a career-best season in 2018, one where he earned a win, four top-five and 17 top-10 finishes to finish fifth in the final standings. Look for Almirola to land the No. 10 Ford Mustang in Victory Lane early this year, with a Championship 4 bid not out of the question if the team comes into 2019 even stronger than last year.
Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford: Bowyer heads into his third season with SHR teamed back up with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, a pair that seems to really click and continues to get stronger. A pair of victories at Martinsville and Michigan gave Bowyer new life in 2018 and he also tacked on nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. The performance was good to make the Playoffs through the Round of 8, coming up just short of the Championship 4 after a struggling in the third round with finishes of 21st or worse.
After enjoying his best Monster Energy Series season since 2012, it’s highly likely that Bowyer and the No. 14 gang will one-up themselves this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bowyer make another deep post-season run this year and if the team can avoid a huge hiccup seen in last year’s three-race stretch before Homestead, a Championship 4 bid is definitely not out of the question.
Daniel Suarez, No. 41 Haas Automation/Arris Ford: If you ask Suarez, he feels the move to SHR’s No. 41 team is a second opportunity, a chance that not many drivers get to experience over the course of their careers. After two seasons of ups-and-downs with JGR, Suarez thinks he has all the tools for success at his disposal, including being teamed up with former JGR driver and team owner Tony Stewart.
“You know, something I really like about Tony is that he’s a very straight-forward guy and what you see is what you get,” Suarez said. “I’m like that as well. So I feel like, to have the support of someone like him, I know he won’t hesitate to say anything to me and I know it’s to be a better race car driver and better person.”
Look for Suarez to potentially rack up his first career victory (or two) in the Monster Energy Series over the course of the regular season and make the Playoffs.
• Jan. 22: Assorted teams
• Jan. 23: Richard Petty Motorsports
• Jan. 24: Germain Racing
• Jan. 25: Leavine Family Racing
• Jan 28: Front Row Motorsports
• Jan. 29: JTG Daugherty Racing
• Jan. 30: Wood Brothers Racing
• Jan. 31: Roush Fenway Racing
• Feb. 1: Richard Childress Racing
• Feb. 4: Chip Ganasssi Racing
• Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports
• Feb. 6: Joe Gibbs Racing
• Feb. 7: Stewart-Haas Racing
• Feb. 8: Team Penske