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.