As the push for performance at Stewart-Haas Racing continues, the competition meetings are getting longer.
Chase Briscoe, the No. 14 Ford rookie driver, revealed Tuesday’s meeting after All-Star weekend at Texas Motor Speedway was over two hours long. It was the longest competition meeting that Briscoe said he’s ever been in. Aric Almirola transferred from the Open and was the highest-finishing Stewart-Haas driver in the non-points event at eighth place. Cole Custer finished 14th, Kevin Harvick was 15th, and Briscoe failed to make the race.
“I felt like we covered a lot of different topics and items, just trying to figure out where we’re at — and I think, for us, we’re all just in four different places,” said Briscoe (pictured at right, above, with crew chief John Klausmeier, middle, and Almirola at Texas). “I’m the rookie trying to figure it out. Cole is kind of somewhere in the middle. Aric was really good last year and kind of struggling this year, and obviously, Kevin is not where he wants to be and where he’s used to being; so us four are in different categories, you could say.”
Harvick is the only Stewart-Haas driver inside the top 25 in points. His crew chief, Rodney Childers, admitted earlier this year that the way the rules are being enforced this year changed “the shape of the rear wheel openings, and just to be frank, it knocked 70 counts of downforce off the cars. And when you knock that amount of downforce off — especially when it mainly comes off the rear — it just completely messes up your aero balance.”
To Childers, Harvick’s team has been a top-five car at most races but admitted that isn’t good enough. He also expressed concern on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio before the Sonoma race weekend that with the rules in place, he doesn’t think they will catch up and gain the horsepower that others have. With limited wind tunnel time and other freezes in place, the focus is on making gains in areas like hubs, gears, oils, and things.
Almirola said Stewart-Haas is working “twice as hard” to get back to where it needs to be. The organization is still hunting for speed and aero balance. Stewart-Haas is winless as the regular season rolls into the summer months, and the four drivers have combined for five top-10 finishes in the last five races. But Briscoe felt his team made “huge gains” last weekend during the 50-lap Open.
“I felt like we tried something, and it made a huge difference for us,” Briscoe said. “Kevin, on the other hand, I think he acted like that was probably the worst car he’s had all year from a speed standpoint, so we’re just trying to figure out what we can take from each team. Like I said, for the 14 specifically, which is the one I can talk the most about, I feel like we made gains at Texas.
“Hopefully, going forward the mile-and-a-half stuff and the 550 package, you’ll start seeing us a little farther up the front now, but it’s hard to say. Time will tell. Every racetrack is different. Texas is obviously different from even a horsepower standpoint, so I don’t know.”
Out of the gate, Briscoe realized the Cup Series would be tough with the depth of the field and the lack of track time before a race. Briscoe is 26th in the point standings with one top-10 finish (COTA).
“Obviously, there’s no lack of effort,” he said. “We wouldn’t be having two-hour meetings and things like that if we weren’t trying to make it better. I’m positive we’re going to get it better; it’s just a matter of time, especially right now it’s a tough predicament because how much time and effort do you want to put into the current car when next year it’s kind of irrelevant?
“It’s a spot I would not envy, to be the guys making the decisions, but I know that we’re trying everything we can to make the stuff better this year, and it’s just going to take time to figure it out — especially when we don’t have practice.”