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NASCAR Insider Brushes Aside Tony Stewart and Co’s Glimpses of Resurgence as a Cup Powerhouse

Published 03/05/2024, 12:50 AM EST

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Stewart-Haas Racing entered the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season shrouded in uncertainty. With a new driver lineup and a winless 2023 campaign fresh in their minds, many questioned their ability to compete at the highest level. However, a glimmer of hope emerged for Tony Stewart’s team in the Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where “outcasted” Noah Gragson defied all expectations with a P6 finish in his hometown. This unexpected display ignited a debate among the experts: is SHR truly back in the mix, or is their Las Vegas performance merely a mirage in the desert?

In a recent episode of “The Teardown” renowned journalists Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic engaged in a thought-provoking discussion regarding the performance of SHR, three races into the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Optimistic Jeff Gluck vs realistic Jordan Bianchi debate Tony Stewart’s team

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Gluck expressed optimism regarding SHR’s recent showing, particularly highlighting Noah Gragson’s impressive performances, despite initial doubts surrounding the #10 team’s potential. He said, “Noah Gragson I mean he was complete he had such a miserable season last year… it was horrible and so he comes and he said he hadn’t even been on a mile-and-a-half track in like six or seven months, yet he comes here with what we thought was going to be you know the floundering organization and runs P6 at his home track.”

“Aside from a bad qualifying lap, he looked good in practice too so I definitely am taking something from that,” Jeff concluded after Gragson’s second Top-10 finish in two races this season.

Bianchi, on the other hand, took a more cautionary stance. He looked back at SHR’s 2023 performances and likened it to their string of Top-10 and Top-5 finishes last season, hesitating to make concrete conclusions early into 2024. He said, “It’s not like they weren’t completely uncompetitive last year. They did have flashy moments. Today was great, it was SHR’s strong performance, very good, but if you go back and look… it’s too soon to take something from this race. SHR looked good, but does that mean anything going forward? I don’t know… it could be just a one-week blip.”

Varying Performance at Vegas for the SHR Quartet

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The collective performance of SHR’s four drivers in the 2024 season until the Vegas race paints a mixed picture, however. Chase Briscoe, piloting the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang Dark Horse, started strong, running in the top 10 for the first half of the race. However, mid-race contact with Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney sent his car into a tailspin, dropping him back to a distant 21st-place finish.

Ryan Preece, behind the wheel of the #41 car, faced an uphill battle from the start. An accident during practice hampered his car’s performance, adding to the team’s struggles since the introduction of the Next-Gen car in 2021. Finishing 23rd he reflected Stewart-Haas Racing’s ongoing fight to find their footing with the new Ford.

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Kevin Harvick’s successor in the #4 Dark Horse, Josh Berry, started at the 26th and climbed 6 spots to place 20th, marking his best finish so far this season. While not an earth-shattering result, it demonstrates gradual improvement compared to his previous DNF and a 25th-place finish at Daytona.

As Jordan Bianchi emphasizes, caution is warranted when evaluating SHR’s potential based on a single race. He contends, “If you’re going to pull results from the first real race of the season and suggest that that’s going to be the template going forward…you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment.”

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Stewart-Haas Racing now navigates this uncertain landscape westwards to Phoenix, the spotlight is firmly on them, and only time will tell if they can rise to the challenge and deliver the kind of success that has become synonymous with Tony Stewart’s name.

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Written by:

Amman Augustin

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Amman Augustin is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. With his coverage majorly focusing on the lavish off-track lives of drivers, Amman often brings the lesser-known side of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick to their fans. Another aspect of NASCAR where he flourishes is covering rivalries between competitors.
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Edited by:

Jayant Chhabra