Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer have both expressed the hope that the crew chief changes made by Stewart-Haas Racing will bolster their chances of matching the successes of teammate Kevin Harvick (pictured at right above, with Almirola and Bowyer, after Harvick’s Brickyard 400 win in September).
Almirola will work with Mike Bugarewicz beginning in 2020. Bugarewicz moves over to Almirola’s No. 10 team from Bowyer’s No. 14 for what will be his fifth season as a crew chief.
“Quite honestly, to be transparent, (it was) how to make everybody step up to the level of that 4 team within our four walls,” said Almirola. “They felt like this would be a good move to shake things up between the 14 and the 10 teams and create a new dynamic and see if that sparks some better performance.
“I’m excited about it. I’ve already spoke with Buga and we’re ready to hit the ground running and looking forward to building on the success that I’ve already had at SHR. [We’re] just trying to be better company wide.”
Johnny Klausmeier will serve as Bowyer’s crew chief. The ’20 season will be Klausmeier’s third full year atop the pit box in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It’s not just those four tires and a steering wheel and a throttle pedal. The success is in the people,” said Bowyer. “It’s still hard to find that chemistry … and finding the right people and the right match to find the success on a consistent basis.
“You look at teams like Kevin and Rodney [Childers] and the success they’ve had, if you’re in meetings and things like that, they click. All the successful pairings are that way, and obviously, this is an effort to find a little bit more of that fit factor. I’m looking forward to it; I think it’s going to be a good thing for all of us. I think it was the right move. Definitely excited about what’s to come and getting things started with Johnny and all those guys.”
Both Almirola and Bowyer made the playoffs this year. Almirola was eliminated after the first round and finished 14th in the standings without a win and 12 top-10 finishes. It was a step down in performance after Almirola won one race in 2018 and made it to the Round of 8.
“I think it was a good a year, it just wasn’t great,” said Almirola. “Last year was a really good year and we didn’t, quite honestly, live up to those same expectations and those same results we had last year.
“But all in all, I felt we had a good year. I was proud of the year we had. It’s an accomplishment just in itself to make the playoffs — but we don’t want to be satisfied with just making the playoffs. You want to make a run into the playoffs like we did last year and win races and unfortunately, we didn’t do that.”
Bowyer was eliminated after the second round of the playoffs and finished ninth in the standings. He also failed to win a race after scoring two victories in 2018.
“We had a lot of good runs, but we didn’t have great runs,” said Bowyer of his season. “Didn’t punch our ticket into victory lane and that’s what you’re in the business to do. We had a lot to overcome this year. There were rule changes and everything else that was implemented. It was a tough year for the Fords — and it was coming off a spectacular, best year ever for the Fords, so hopefully next year will be better and time will tell. But you just got to keep perfecting the little things and focusing in on the things we can control. Certainly chemistry and people are one of those and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish right now.”
Mike Shiplett will return to the NASCAR Cup Series as the crew chief for Cole Custer, who he worked with in the Xfinity Series this year. Harvick’s team was the only one who did not have a crew chief change.
“The expectations are to be competitive with all four cars like we were last year — and obviously this year I don’t think everybody met those expectations,” said Harvick. “I think that obviously sends a message that with Daniel [Suarez] going out and Cole coming in and all three of the crew chiefs swapping spots, it’s definitely an indication that we have to make those position changes matter and get things back to where we were the year before.”
SHR won 12 races in 2018 between its four drivers. The team won four races in ’19, all courtesy of Harvick.