Stewart-Haas Racing is still hunting its first win of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and Aric Almirola says everyone is “a little surprised” at this point.
“That’s the hard thing about our sport; it’s very cyclical,” said Almirola. “Teams come and go. The teams that are on top today might not be on top tomorrow. Everybody just works so hard to chase whoever is on top. It’s hard to be king of the mountain week after week, year after year. Last year was a phenomenal year for us at Stewart-Haas Racing and for me personally. This year, we just haven’t outclassed the field like we did last year.
“I watched last year’s Chicago race on the flight here and it was crazy. At one point in the race we were running 1-2-3-4. We did that a lot last year — had all four cars in the top-five or ran 1-2-3-4. Dover comes to mind. We ran 1-2-3-4 there.
“When you go back and look at those races, though, we actually gave [them] away. We ran 1-2-3-4 for a lot of those races but none of our cars won. So, when you look at the number of wins — I think we had 14 wins as an organization last year; but we probably should have had 18 to 20. It was just a phenomenal year for us.
“Honestly, the guys are working harder now than they ever have,” Almirola said. We’re trying. It’s not from lack of effort, I can promise you that. We’re just trying to figure it all out and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
SHR had seven wins by this weekend last year, between Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Harvick won three more times before the end of the season. Former driver Kurt Busch would go on to win later in the summer at Bristol while Almirola picked up the win in the fall Talladega race.
While all four current drivers — Almirola, Harvick, Bowyer, and now Daniel Suarez — have led laps this season, none have been victorious, and a lot has been said about needing to improve. Combined they have 13 top-five finishes and 34 top-10 finishes.
“I feel like we’re getting really close,” said Almirola. “There are still some questions that we don’t have the answers to and some differing of opinions from track to track and week to week. That’s the really challenging part of this [new rules] package.”
On the bright side, all four drivers are inside the top 13 in points and looking at potential playoff berths. Almirola is 11th in the standings, the second-highest SHR driver.
“When I look at last year versus this year, we’re a little higher in points and have had a little higher average finish than last year,” Almirola continued. “As an organization, though, I feel like we’re a little off from where we were. That makes me feel good about what we are doing inside the 10 team, just getting the most out of what we have.
“Last year I felt like — being new to the organization and learning everything — I felt like we were not making the most [of our situation], especially for the first four or five months of the season. Then we got on track and were leading laps and running up front and challenging to win races, and then we did win and went on to do really well in the playoffs.
“That second half of last season was really good for us. Going into this season our expectations [were] higher and I feel like we’re doing a better job but we still have more to get — more growing pains and more learning each other. Last year as an organization we showed up with fast race cars every week. This year has been a little hit and miss. Learning how to go through some of these tough times as a team has been something new for us.”