Improved communication has boosted Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing

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Sunday saw more of the same for Stewart-Haas Racing, or at least more of what could be the new normal.

Kevin Harvick visited victory lane for the fourth time this year.

But to get the win, he had to get around a teammate. That was Clint Bowyer, who is getting used to running up front consistently for the first time in years.

Harvick passed Bowyer with 63 laps to go and ran away for the win. Bowyer came home second for his third top five of the season. Bowyer, who led 40 laps, contended despite an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel early in the race.

Kurt Busch finished fifth to give Stewart-Haas Racing three cars in the top five. New teammate Aric Almirola placed 11th.

“This year, we’ve been working well every single weekend,” Bowyer said. “We’re pushing each other to be better, and our setups are all relatively the same, and it shows on the racetrack. (Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and I have done such a way better job of communicating, and all that comes with success. Make no mistake about it, those things come with success, and we’ve had that so far this year, and it makes all the communication and everything a lot better.”

Bowyer also pointed to a restructuring at Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason that included Busch’s former crew chief, Tony Gibson, taking an oversight position in the SHR shop. Or as team co-owner Tony Stewart said, a “floor babysitter.”

“We had one car (Harvick) last year that was running well, and it doesn’t do an organization very much if you only have one car running well,” Bowyer said. With Gibson coming off the road and “collaborating amongst the teams,” Bowyer said he is “making sure all those cars are ready for battle when they go to the racetrack” and that they’re essentially alike.

“That’s the biggest thing is when you go to the track, you need to be able to bounce off each other and work with one another, and sometimes something is different or whatever, it’s hard to do that,” Bowyer said.

SHR is making it look easy, having claimed five wins through 11 races, with Bowyer earning his first since 2012.

The team has 13 top fives and 25 top 10s among its four drivers. Last year, with the team in its first season with Ford and Danica Patrick driving the No. 10, SHR had 26 top fives (14 from Harvick) and 52 top 10s the entire season.

“When you have confidence in the cars and the tools and everything going on, I think the biggest thing is just all the cylinders are clicking right now,” said Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick. “The biggest thing is we haven’t went back and talked about the races that we’ve won. We go back and we talk about how to get better every week, and we build better race cars and they build better engines, and we’ve done better on pit road. To keep this going, we’re going to have to get a lot better every single week, and to keep it to where it needs to be when the championship comes around.”

Stewart said everything about SHR’s operation is “on point” through 11 races. Earlier this season he saw all four of his cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Phoenix.

“I think Brett Favre said this in a quote once, is that success is kind of one of the worst things that can happen to you because some guys feel like they’ve got where they need to be and they lose that intensity,” Stewart said “That’s something that I feel like our group is really good about, not losing that focus on the fact that we’re a technology‑driven sport, and we have to keep pushing all the time to keep finding more things to go faster and be better than we were the week before.”

All the work SHR has put in has three of their drivers in the top six in points through 11 races. Bowyer, in his second season with SHR, is fourth.

He hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2013.

“It’s fun to be up in the limelight,” Bowyer said.

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”