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Stewart-Haas Racing begins to find its rhythm with encouraging Nashville showing

LEBANON, Tenn. — For the most part, Stewart-Haas Racing raced to the beat of a different tune on Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway.

After uncharacteristic struggles throughout the majority of the 2021 season, Aric Almirola changed course by scoring the Busch Pole for the Ally 400. The No. 10 Ford driver was able to parlay that into a fourth-place finish at the 1.33-mile track, his first top five and second top 10 of the year.

MORE: Full Nashville results | Photos from race weekend

After coming off a 2020 season that produced career bests of six top-five and 18 top-10 results, Almirola said it just felt good to be in the conversation up front.

“It’s been such a tough year and it’s easy to get down on yourself and just not have a lot of confidence,” Almirola said after Sunday’s race. “Confidence is something that comes with results. You can’t fake it. So, it’s been nice to have two good weeks now. It certainly makes everybody have a little pep in their step and things are going in the right direction.”

Kevin Harvick was the next-highest-finishing SHR car in fifth place. Harvick is having the best season out of the SHR drivers so far with five top fives and 12 top 10s, but it will take more consistent results to approach his 2020 season-ending mark of 20 top fives and 27 top 10s.

Almirola was able to get past his teammate for position on the final lap when the No. 4 Ford of Harvick ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag. Harvick also received damage earlier in the race, which hindered the performance of the car in the later stages.

“Before our damage, I think we had the second-best car at the end,” Harvick said. “Got a little bit of damage on the right side, got a little bit tight and then ran out of gas there off of Turn 4. All in all, it was a solid day.”

It wasn’t a major statement run by any stretch, but Harvick at least took solace in the fact that they ran better. But can they make Victory Lane a realistic expectation moving forward?

“I don’t know,” Harvick said. “I don’t think anyone can beat the 5 (team of race winner Kyle Larson) right now.”

The other two drivers in the SHR stable, Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe, were unable to achieve much improvement. Despite running in the top 12 for a portion of the 300-lap event, Custer finished 30th after tire woes, while Briscoe brought out the final caution of the race on Lap 227 when the No. 14 Ford retired after hitting the wall due to a brake failure.

The Ford Performance camp still has much ground to gain to better position themselves for a playoff run with nine races remaining in the regular season. While Hendrick Motorsports has made it look easy up front, Almirola noted just how tough it has been on the No. 10 team to work for better results.

“When you run bad, it’s 10 times as much work because you’re going down every single avenue trying to figure out what’s going to make speed in the race cars,” Almirola said. “When you have fast race cars, it’s easy. You just massage on it and polish it and keep going to the race track with what you know is fast. We’ve been working so hard and proud of everybody back at the shop.”