Don’t count SHR out just yet

JOLIET, ILLINOIS - JUNE 29: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, 2019 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While two teams – Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske – have accounted for 15 of the 16 race wins so far this season, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola is confident his team is on the verge of a victory circle visit. Last year, SHR had seven wins by the time the series arrived at Chicagoland Speedway – nearly half of the races run.

This season, the SHR team is winless – although still running strong and making championship noise. All four drivers are currently among the current championship 16. Kevin Harvick, who had scored five of his eight wins by this point in the season last year is ranked third in the points standings with five top fives and 11 top 10s, but is still looking for his first victory

Aric Almirola, who quietly and efficiently finished a career best fifth in the 2018 championship standings, is currently ranked 11th. His nine top-10 finishes and pole position (at Atlanta) however, represent the best season start in his seven-year full-time Cup career.

Clint Bowyer, who had a pair of victories by Chicago last year, is also winless in 2019 but ranked 12th. And the team’s new driver Daniel Suarez, is ranked a career best 13th place – with a pair of top-five finishes.

“I think we are all a little surprised,’’ Almirola conceded of the team’s winless situation this season. “That is the hard thing about our sport. It is very cyclical. Teams come and go. The teams that are on top today might not be on top tomorrow. Last year was a phenomenal year for us at Stewart-Haas Racing and for me personally in my career. This year we just haven’t outclassed the field like we did last year.“

And while this season is proving more challenging, Almirola remained calmly optimistic about both the potential of the SHR organization to rally into Victory Lane and its legitimate shot at challenging for a championship when that time comes.

“Honestly, the guys are working harder now than they ever have,’’ he said. “We are trying. It is not from lack of effort, I can promise you that. We are just trying to figure it all out and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Greg Engle