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Tony Stewart will be the first one to admit that 2021 at Stewart-Haas Racing was a bad year. He said as much in a recent video posted on the team’s Twitter account. He also talked about his thoughts on the new Next Gen car and how his team has performed in it. However, during the three-minute video, the three-time Cup Series champion made one statement that wasn’t accurate. The numbers don’t lie.    

Tony Stewart paints rosy picture for SHR 2022 season

Last season, Tony Stewart was extremely candid about the SHR team’s struggles, even admitting, “we definitely have a problem in our organization.”

Things definitely changed this year when Chase Briscoe, who was a rookie a year ago, served notice to the rest of the Cup Series garage that SHR may not be back all the way, but is good enough to contend and win, which he did in the fourth race of the season at Phoenix. 

“Last year was not a year that Stewart-Haas Racing is used to having by any means,” the Hall of Famer admitted in the video. “But coming with the new car you have the ability to get ahead early or get behind early. I think we were kind of in the middle of that, and 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.

“I keep seeing progress each week, so I feel like I’m happy with the progress. 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 what you want to see progress, progression, and moving toward the front of the field, and I feel like consistently we’re moving that direction and it’s not just one or two of the cars. All the cars are moving that direction together.”

The numbers don’t lie

Stewart would have been fine if he had ended with, “I feel like consistently we’re moving that direction.” But he didn’t. He suggested that all of the cars are getting better. However, the numbers tell a different story.

Chase Briscoe and Aric Almirola are undeniably trending better than last year. Briscoe has three top 10s, including his win. Last season, he had three top 10s all year. 

Almirola has also shown considerable improvement one-third of the way through the season. Last year in a dozen races, the No. 10 car had a single top-10 finish. This year that number is four, including a top 5 at Daytona to open the season.

The same cannot be said for Kevin Harvick and Cole Custer. Harvick managed nine top-10 finishes, including four top 5s through a dozen races in 2021. So far this year he’s earned six top 10s, including a pair of top 5s. He’s also recorded a pair of DNFs in 2022. He had that same number all of last year. 

Of all the drivers that prove Stewart’s statement is inaccurate, it’s Cole Custer. The No. 41 car hasn’t secured a single top-10 finish this year versus one a year ago. However, more concerning, through 12 races, Custer has four DNFs. He had three in all of 2021.  

Tony Stewart knows hard work is key to success

Tony Stewart looks on
Tony Stewart looks on during the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals on April 2, 2022 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. | Photo by Jeff Speer/LVMS/Icon Sportswire

Tony Stewart is tasked with many things as a co-owner of SHR. Being a cheerleader is among them. He has a unique perspective as a former driver and knows from first-hand experience the importance of pumping up the drivers and encouraging them to fight through whatever adversity they may be facing. They’ve had plenty of it in the last year. 

In that same video, he said that with the new car everything is constantly evolving and teams are figuring out different ways to improve the car at a rapid rate. Those teams who aren’t constantly on top of it will fall behind.  

“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,” he said. “So we stress and emphasize to these guys that we always have to keep pushing forward even when we feel like we’ve figured something out and got a good handle on it, we always have to keep moving forward and keep pushing to look for the next best thing.”

With that type of mentality, there’s no reason to believe Briscoe’s win will be the last at SHR in 2022. Most pundits think Harvick is long overdue. But, as we’ve all seen this season, the Next Gen car has changed the game. Everyone started with a clean slate. Like Stewart said, some are further along in the process than others. And that’s not only true for the organizations but the individual drivers within those teams.

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