It’s hard to believe, but Stewart-Haas Racing went winless between the first and 16th NASCAR Cup races of the year.
The team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas bookended the first half of the season by winning the Daytona 500 and Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.
Though the day was highlighted by Kevin Harvick winning at Sonoma for the first time, it was improved upon by Clint Bowyer finishing second in a car that looked like a diecast that had been manhandled by a 3-year-old.
It was just the third time SHR cars had finished 1-2 in a Cup race.
For Stewart, a year removed from his final Cup win at the same track, it made for an “awesome day” in the middle of a tough year that started with Kurt Busch‘s Daytona 500 triumph.
“I think the important thing is with the way our series is laid down, having two of the drivers get their wins already at this point of the year and solidly in the Chase, that’s a very important deal for our company, especially from the sponsorship side,” Stewart said. “Got great partners, obviously, and to get Mobil 1 in Victory Lane this weekend was great. That’s big, and our first year with Ford now and we’ve won two races already this season, so I think that’s a really solid effort and shows how good a partnership we have with Ford right now.”
Though there’s been bumps in the team’s transition from Chevy to Ford this season, the team has had off-track issues finding sponsors for its four-car team and legal problems with existing sponsor, Nature’s Bakery. A four-month legal battle resulted in the company sponsoring Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer in two races each later this year.
Bowyer has had Haas-owned companies as his primary sponsor in 12 of 16 races. Busch has had them as a co-primary sponsor in 15 of 16 races.
“For two of the four teams right now, they can start worrying about what to do to get ready for the (playoffs) and having the ability to try different things to prepare for that,” Stewart said of the next 10 races before the playoffs start. “That’s a really important thing for our company right now, and I think we all expected that Kevin would have got it sooner than this, but there’s just been some bad luck, some different venues that he’s been really, really strong at that we just had some weird and bad luck that have crept in to his program.”
Entering Sonoma, Harvick had five top fives, with his best result a runner-up finish at Pocono. He still has three stage wins, tying him for second most with Kyle Larson.
Bowyer left the road course with his second runner-up finish of the year and his third top five, his most since 2014. His rebound comes while he works with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who was paired with Stewart in his final year of competition.
“Clint and Buga, to be having the season they’ve had as a fresh driver and crew chief combination, I think they’ve had a really good start to their season, as well,” Stewart said. “I think there’s a lot of positive things in the company, and the results haven’t obviously always shown that, but at the same time, being able to sit on the pit box and see it a lot more clearly from the pit box than I could from my own car last year, I think there’s a lot of things that we’re excited about.”