The start of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is only a little over a month away and when Stewart Haas Racing(SHR) hits the track for Speedweeks in Daytona, there will be some notable changes. SHR will once again field four full-time Cup teams with a new driver piloting one of those entries, a rookie crew chief leading another, and another crew chief swapping teams. The intentions of these changes are to produce the highest level of performance in pursuit of another Championship.
While there are some changes at SHR, some teams will stay the same, as is the case for the No. 4 team staying with driver Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. This couple has proven they are potent since they began working together at SHR in 2014, the same year in which they won the Cup championship. Harvick has won races and made the playoffs in each of his four seasons at SHR and there’s no reason to expect anything different in 2018. The 2017 season is best described as a challenge for SHR as they made a complete switch to Ford and began building their own chassis’ in-house. While there were significant growing pains because of the switch, the No. 4 team won two races (Sonoma and Texas), the latter of which propelled Harvick as one of the last four drivers competing for the championship at the finale in Homestead. With a full year under their belts with Ford, expect this driver-crew chief duo to improve on their strength for the upcoming season.
The No. 10 team will have a whole new look for 2018 with Aric Almirola as the driver of the car along with new crew chief John Klausmeier. Almirola is a veteran of the sport and gets a fresh start with a top-tier team for what is arguably his best opportunity to succeed in the Cup Series. It will be an interesting year for this team as Almirola looks to prove himself as a consistent front-runner and playoff contender. Klausmeier will begin his first season as a full-time Cup crew chief but is no stranger to SHR or even being a crew chief. Having served as a race engineer since 2009, Klausmeier was the interim crew chief for Kurt Busch when the No. 41 team went victory lane at Pocono in June of 2016. The Almirola/Klausmeier combination is one that could certainly give fans some pleasant surprises in 2018.
Another SHR team undergoing no major changes is the No. 14 team of driver Clint Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. 2017 marked the first season this duo worked together which may ultimately be disappointing when considering the team didn’t win a race or make the playoffs. The results were promising, however, as the team put forth 13 top-tens and six top-fives which included three runner-up finishes. Last season was a step in the right direction for Bowyer and Bugarewicz and with a full year at SHR under their belt, one can expect an even stronger 2018. It will be a pivotal season, however, as Bowyer has not won a Cup race since 2012. That’s a stat likely to change in 2018 as this pair poise themselves for a breakout season.
Finally, we now know that Kurt Busch will be back behind the wheel of the No. 41 Ford in 2018 but with a different crew chief. Billy Scott, formerly crew chief of the No. 10 team, will lead the 41 team in 2018. Veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, former leader of the No. 41 team, elected to retire as a crew chief after the 2017 season and will stay with SHR as the new production manager for the team, overseeing car construction. The Gibson-Busch pairing will certainly be missed as the two have enjoyed success and worked well together. Scott is a veteran crew chief with several years of experience in that position and being coupled with a former Cup champion in Busch could manifest as a strong combination.
SHR is a championship and race winning organization and these changes for 2018 should make the team even stronger. A full year under their belts with Ford sets them up to start the season even stronger than last year – when Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 for SHR getting their 2017 off to a great start. A new season always provides new confidence and optimism and if the SHR teams have their way, they will find victory lane many times and contend for another championship.