Stewart-Haas vows changes to put end to winless streak

Chase Briscoe is part of an ice-cold Stewart-Haas Racing team in NASCAR’s Cup Series. Heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500, the team owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart has not won in 84 races.
(AP/Chris O’Meara)
Chase Briscoe is part of an ice-cold Stewart-Haas Racing team in NASCAR’s Cup Series. Heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500, the team owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart has not won in 84 races. (AP/Chris O’Meara)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Stewart put his NASCAR team on blast ahead of the Daytona 500 and in the wake of a winless 2023 season: get to victory lane, hang banners -- or else.

Stewart-Haas Racing is in more than a small slump. SHR has been downright dismal.

The team once among NASCAR's best hasn't won in the last 84 Cup races headed into Sunday's Daytona 500. This season's four-driver lineup, which includes holdovers Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece and newcomers Josh Berry and Noah Gragson, have a combined one career Cup victory -- Briscoe won in 2022 at Phoenix.

Stewart, so fiery as a driver he was nicknamed Smoke, had enough of the failures. The three-time Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver said the standard at SHR -- where Stewart and recent retiree Kevin Harvick each won championships -- was set too high for the team to now languish far outside title contention.

"We're going to have get some races into it," Stewart said this month on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, "but if we're not having the results we're looking for, we're going to start making some major changes. Everybody knows that. Everybody understands that."

SHR's stumbles on the track led to other losses off it, with premier sponsors Anheuser-Busch and Smithfield leaving the team. SHR's deal with Ford ends after this season and negotiations could hinge on how many checkered flags Berry, Briscoe, Gragson and Preece chase.

The four drivers have heard the criticism -- already harsh from fans and the media -- but it hits harder when it comes from Stewart.

"We hear everybody, we hear you guys, we're not just ignoring it," Preece said. "And as you heard Tony say, mediocrity isn't acceptable."

Aric Almirola and Harvick both left at the end of last season. They were veteran leaders in the race shop and at the track, and their voices will be missed. But even a proven winner such as Harvick wasn't immune to the troubles that plagued the Fords in 2023. He won 37 races and the 2014 title in his 10 seasons at SHR, including nine wins in 2020, but scuffled to just six top-five finishes in his farewell season.

Now a Fox Sports broadcaster, Harvick compared SHR's current station to one Hendrick Motorsports endured in 2018 when Jimmie Johnson, William Byron and Alex Bowman all went winless and Chase Elliott won three times. Johnson was a veteran on the backend of his full-time career while Byron, Bowman and Elliott were young and inexperienced. It was a rebuilding effort that followed the retirements of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

Much like Stewart ripped SHR, team owner Rick Hendrick didn't hold back in 2019, saying "Last year sucked. I ain't gonna do that no more."

Harvick said it's up to Berry, Briscoe, Gragson and Preece to see SHR through back into one of the elite teams in NASCAR.

"Hey, we need to rebuild this and we need to refresh it with some young faces from the driver's seat and let's build our group around this," Harvick said. "With that, I think there's probably other things that come with that process and where they go and where they're at, I don't think any of us will really know until they start the season and you start to see what the strengths and weakness of what they have."

Here are the SHR drivers on hot seats:

Josh Berry, 33, No. 4 Ford.

Berry did win five career races in the second-tier Xfinity Series but is winless in 12 career Cup starts. Berry spent last season as a substitute driver in the Cup Series. He made starts for both Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman at Hendrick and for Gragson at Legacy Motor Club.

"Tony has been a great leader and had a lot of success in this sport. I can completely understand why he would say that he wants us to perform better," Berry said. "That's naturally as an owner what he's expected to do and that's what we expect of ourselves. I don't think any of us, I didn't walk into this deal expecting everybody to pat me on the back and tell me how easy it's going to be and how nice they're going to be to me. I knew it's going to be hard. I know I'm going to have to work at this. I know we're going to have to perform."

Chase Briscoe, 29, No. 14 Ford.

Briscoe has just one win in 108 career Cup starts. He has the most starts among the four SHR drivers and could be feeling the most heat as the longest-tenured driver to start racing for a championship. Briscoe was 30th in the standings last year.

Noah Gragson, 25, No. 10 Ford.

Gragson is winless with just one top-five finish in 39 career starts. Gragson was excited for a second chance at a NASCAR career after his "like" of an insensitive meme of George Floyd led to end of his brief tenure at Legacy Motor Club. Gragson, who won 13 races in the Xfinity Series driving for JR Motorsports and was the 2022 championship runner-up, ran 21 races in Cup with Legacy before his suspension.

"We've done a lot of self-reflecting and soul searching over the past handful of months and trying to become the best leader possible," Gragson said. "I think that's what in 20 years when I look back I feel like, man, if I was the best leader for my team and the best piece of the puzzle for my team and did the best job, I'll be satisfied with myself."

Ryan Preece, 33, No. 41 Ford

Preece was just as underwhelming in his first season at SHR as he was in his previous stop with JTG Daugherty Racing. He's winless in 151 career races and had just two top-10 finishes last season.

"Preece has the personality that he's going to speak up and voice his opinion on what things are," Harvick said. "Ryan's not going to be shy about speaking his mind and that's what it's going to take to be the leader."

Maybe Preece can learn a thing or two about how to speak out from his fed-up boss.

"We had two miserable years in a row," Stewart said. "I'm tired of taking the blame from everybody on why the cars aren't running good. I think the fans need a reality check and a reminder that I'm not the crew chief, I'm not the engineer, I don't dictate the setups on the cars. I give these guys the tools to do the job and we just haven't got it done the last couple years."

  photo  Chase Briscoe answers questions from members of the media during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
 
 
  photo  Noah Gragson, left, takes part in an interview at NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
 
 
  photo  Driver Ryan Preece speaks to the media during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race media day Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
 
 
  photo  Driver Josh Berry speaks to reporters during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
 
 

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