Entering Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, polesitter Kevin Harvick was considered to be one of the favorites for the victory, having led a combined 455 laps in his last six events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead, Harvick and his three teammates had what is arguably the worst performance for Stewart-Haas Racing in over five years.
The team’s four drivers combined to run a total of 128 laps inside the top-15 – out of a possible 1,068 (11.98%) — with the driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang recording his lowest top-15 running rate since the Spring of 2019.
None of the four entries finished on the lead lap, with only one of them – Harvick — scoring a top-20 finish. Rookie of The Year Contender Chase Briscoe finished in 21st, with second-year driver Cole Custer in 25th. Aric Almirola finished last, after a flat tire sent his Smithfield Power Bites Ford Mustang into the outside wall on lap 180.
We were dealt some bad hands today. pic.twitter.com/SkLFXWPit3
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) March 7, 2021
In fact, Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 was the first-time since March 2014 – at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — that Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t have a single-entry place inside the top-15 on a non-superspeedway track over a mile in length.
Now, it’s possible that these are just one-week struggles, as Clint Bowyer mentioned on the FOX broadcast on Sunday that Las Vegas was a hit-or-miss track for Stewart-Haas Racing while he was behind the wheel, but there has to be some sort of unrest within the organization going forward, as Cole Custer, Chase Briscoe and Aric Almriola all enter the fifth race of the season more than 10 points behind the Playoff cutline.
On top of that, the influx of ‘surprise winners’ in the NASCAR Cup Series to start the season, along with the unpredictability of the season ahead, makes it more crucial for Stewart-Haas Racing to start firing on all cylinders and stop the bleeding before it becomes too late to make a recovery.
Phoenix Raceway – the next track on the schedule — is a track that has been good to the organization, with Stewart-Haas Racing scoring 23 top-five finishes at the one-mile oval, including six victories, five of which belong to Kevin Harvick.
While Harvick still sits in a comfortable position in point standings, his three teammates will need to start taking chunks out of their deficit to the bubble if they’re hoping to be one of the 16 drivers in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.