The mix of talent, popularity, and personality will make up Stewart-Haas Racing’s star-studded team in 2014. By growing their stable and adding new talents in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, SHR is excited to see what the team’s newness turns into. Last season may not have been the best, but all the focus is on the future as this super-team is set to pounce on the competition.
As good as Harvick looks on paper for 2014, his season is full of unknowns. This is the first major team change in his career. Never before have we seen Harvick drive for anyone but RCR in the Sprint Cup Series. How he adjusts to the transition is what holds people back from making him a championship favorite. Transitions can go either way, but Harvick hopes for his to go the way Matt Kenseth’s did last season. Winning seven races and competing closely for the championship would signal a great season for Harvick.
One of the best crew chiefs in NASCAR today, Rodney Childers, will be calling the shots for the No.4 team throughout the season. This all-star combination has the chance to perform extremely well, putting the odds more and more into Harvick’s favor.
My Prediction: Harvick has a fairly decent season with three or so wins and a spot in the Chase. He will be one of the season’s top performers, but the Chase may be tough for Harvick as he falls short of being a top contender for the title.
Sophomore season’s can be extremely difficult or a breath of fresh air. Patrick hopes hers goes more smoothly than her rookie season and quiets her critics. 2013 was a rather rough year for Patrick, but the high points like Daytona and Martinsville have her thirsty for a better 2014. She will now return to each track with at least one race worth of experience. That experience may be extremely valuable as she can work more at perfecting her car on race weekend instead of learning the track. There is a lot of optimism for Patrick’s season as it will continue to showcase her growth.
My Prediction: Good runs will appear more often for Patrick this season. She will be more of a consistent top 20 finisher and be very competitive on the superspeedway’s if she can avoid trouble. Expect four to six top 10’s out of Patrick.
The return of Smoke will be something to watch out for. A racer never enjoys sitting out a race and after Stewart had to do just that for most of the second half of 2013, he is fired up and ready to return to the driver’s seat. With SHR thriving and his leg all healed up, 2014 is already looking like it will be a better year for Stewart. New crew chief Chad Johnston will also be an aid to Stewart as a new mastermind on the pit box could add more to Stewart’s winning-ways.
My Prediction: Stewart will be a threat in the Daytona 500, but encounter a slow start in the following races. By the summer months, he will pick up his stride and return to his top form. A win or two will come his way prior to the Chase. If he can catch fire early in the Chase, he may end up being someone to watch for as Homestead-Miami approaches.
The career resurgence of Kurt Busch comes to its highest point yet with Busch’s new opportunity at SHR. For the first time since leaving Penske Racing, Busch is in a ride capable of being very successful. With Hendrick support and a talented cast at SHR, Busch has an endless supply of resources. He is a proven champion who knows what it takes to make it to the top. He also knows the grief that comes along with falling to the bottom. With this heaping of new knowledge, Busch can take a top ride such as the one he has and do great things.
There is nothing preventing him from falling back down to his old ways, however. A true test to see if he has really grown will be if situations that got him in trouble in the past strike again. Can Busch handle success? 2014 will be the year to answer that.
My Prediction: Busch experiences a somewhat quiet season which will put him in position to win a race every once in awhile. He will be right on the edge of making the Chase field, but a win late in the regular season may put him in. His Chase will play out similar to last season’s and he won’t be in position for a second title.
What all four SHR teams have in common is their potential for success. Each have a chance to do great things, but only by taking risks and putting themselves in position to win will they actually achieve. The resources this team has built up are arguably the best in NASCAR, so taking advantage of that is another key component to their recipe for success. This is one team to watch on and off the track in 2014. The clash of personalities taking place on the team will bring something new to NASCAR and they will easily be a threat each and every weekend.
By Jason Schultz
Follow Jason on twitter @NASCARJason