Tony Stewart feels his Stewart-Haas Racing team is starting to gain on things in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, after the team came off of one of it’s worst seasons in existence in 2021.
On Wednesday, Stewart spoke about the state of the team and the state of the development of NASCAR’s new Next Gen car in a video that SHR released to their social media channels.
“I think last year was probably one of the worst years we’ve had,” Stewart stated about 2021. “But at the end of the season, it made for a tough offseason, I feel like. Because we went and had to switch to the new car. Not finishing on a high note kind of puts you behind a little bit getting going and getting the morale of the shop up.”
While 2021 was a struggle, and the team felt like they were a little behind going into the 2022 season, Stewart is starting to feel the momentum shift back into SHR’s lap.
“I think when you get a win with Chase Briscoe getting his first Cup win. Having the opportunity to win at Bristol. Seeing Kevin Harvick’s finishes continuing to increase. That is something that all of these guys feed off of,” Stewart explained. “When Aric [Almirola] has a good run, when Cole [Custer] has a good run, these guys all feed off of that and that builds the momentum back up.”
Stewart says that while finding speed is important, the more important factor for his team, is just working with the team’s partners, like GEARWRENCH, to develop tools and methods of building the cars that speed up the time spent crafting the new Next Gen cars.
Now that they’ve started speeding up the process of assembly, Stewart feels like the speed on the track is starting to match the speed of which the cars are coming together at their Kannapolis, North Carolina campus.
“I think performance-wise that we’re gaining on it,” Stewart said. “Coming in with a new car, you have the ability to get ahead early or get behind early and I think we were kind of in the middle of that. We’re making ground and getting toward the front of it now. Trying to learn what these new cars like and dislike is the big challenge.”
After the one-third mark of the 2022 season, SHR currently has three of their four cars inside the Playoff cutoff of the point standings. Briscoe has already recorded a win, which has him locked into the postseason, while Harvick and Almirola have started turning in more top-of-the-board finishes.
Additionally, the team’s fourth-car, driven by Cole Custer, has shown speed. Custer has just been bitten by rough luck so far this season.
For Stewart, it’s all a matter of seeing things trending in the right direction from a competition standpoint.
“I keep seeing progress each week. So, I feel like, I’m happy with the progress,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to know, when you start the season, where you’re going to be at, especially with a new car like this. Once you get going though, what you want to see is progress and progression and moving toward the front of the field. And I feel like consistently, we’re moving that direction. It’s not just one or two of the cars, it’s all of the cars, all of the cars are moving in that direction together.”
Now that SHR is starting to find speed in their cars, Stewart stresses the importance of his team not becoming complacent. In the world of NASCAR, especially when a new car is in development, you have to always be forging your path forward.
“You constantly have to keep your engineers and your crew chiefs and all of the guys that are working on the car in the mindset of what we have is never good enough,” Stewart emphasized. “I don’t care, you can win five races in a row, but what you have is not going to be good enough two more weeks down the road.”
While Stewart has had several spats with NASCAR as a sanctioning body over the years, the 50-year old credits NASCAR with creating a car that can be used at a variety of race tracks and for being open to making changes on the fly when things are found that need to be addressed.
“I think the new car, there have been some really bright moments for it. The dirt race at Bristol showed that the car is really versatile. Obviously, on the road courses, it’s a great car on the road courses,” Stewart explained. “But we saw early in the year, when you would get a flat tire, how challenging it was just to get the car back to the pits on a flat tire, or it would just get stuck altogether. There’s things that NASCAR has seen in these new cars that need adjustments, but they’ve been very willing and open minded to making the changes to correct the problems.”
Stewart-Haas Racing will keep digging on working their way back to the pinnacle of the NASCAR Cup Series, where they stood just a few years ago. And as they chip away at being more and more competitive, the NASCAR Next Gen car will continue to take strides toward being a better race car for the competition and the fanbase consuming the product.
Here is the complete video of Tony Stewart talking about the state of Stewart-Haas Racing and the status of the Next Gen car:
We're always moving forward and making progress.
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) May 11, 2022