The 2021 season turned heads for a variety of reasons, including Kyle Larson winning the championship in his return to the NASCAR Cup Series. Another massive story was Stewart-Haas Racing only reaching Victory Lane one time during the 36-race season after 10 trips in 2021.
Aric Almirola won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and reached the playoffs, taking back some momentum after five DNFs and a total of 13 finishes 20th or worse in the first 21 races. Harvick reached the playoffs after consistently posting top-10 and top-five finishes during the regular season. He ended the year fifth in points despite failing to win a race or a stage for the first time in his SHR tenure.
The organization co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas has won at least two races every single season since 2009, the first year it competed in the NASCAR Cup Series. The two wins in 2013 — one by Stewart and one by Ryan Newman — marked the previous low point for the organization in terms of wins, but 2021 changed the conversation even with two drivers reaching the playoffs.
The other “big” organizations in NASCAR all contended for wins while finishing off the current generation of stock car racing. Hendrick Motorsports drivers combined for 17 wins while the Joe Gibbs Racing quartet added another nine. Team Penske’s trio reached Victory Lane five times. Stewart-Haas Racing tied smaller organizations in Front Row Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing with one win.
This situation could change considerably with all of the teams moving to the Next Gen stock cars and the same list of provided parts. The Ford teams did not have the same pace as those running Toyota or Chevrolet stock cars in 2021, but they should be more competitive in the first year of 670-horsepower engines.
The Rookie of the Year Will Aim for Wins in 2022
Chase Briscoe finished out his NASCAR Xfinity Series career with a nine-win season and then moved up to the NASCAR Cup Series for 2021. He replaced Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 and won Rookie of the Year despite going winless and finishing 23rd in points.
Briscoe is no longer a rookie, and he will take on his second full-time season while adjusting to a new stock car. He will climb into the Next Gen No. 14 with a new primary sponsor in Mahindra Tractors and will fight for the first Cup Series win of his career.
There is no guarantee that Briscoe will join Kurt Busch, Harvick, Newman, Bowyer, and Almirola on the list of SHR winners, but he does have some factors that play in his favor. He has a full season’s worth of experience, and he will join every other driver in adapting to the new stock car. There will be a more level playing field, which will be ripe for first-time winners.
“To have a great rookie season, get to go to all these tracks and race with all these drivers before we go to a Next Gen car next year I think was a great advantage for him, but I feel like it’s a level playing field for him, now,” Stewart told MRN in a December 22 article.
“Nothing is new anymore other than the car, and it’s a new car for everybody, so I feel like this is a chance for Chase to shine with a new race car and a new partner that is bringing a lot of excitement to the shop already.”
Cole Custer Remains a Quiet Question Mark
The 2020 Rookie of the Year, Cole Custer turned in some strong performances during his first season in the No. 41. He won a race at Kentucky Speedway and finished the year 16th in points with a total of seven top-10 finishes and two top-fives.
Custer faced raised expectations entering his second full-time season with SHR, but he was one of many Ford drivers that did not have the same level of success. He only posted two top-10 finishes — 10th at Talladega Superspeedway and 10th at Dover International Speedway — and had 20 finishes 20th or worse.
Custer has shown that he can contend for wins in the Cup Series, but will he get back to this level of performance in 2022? He will have the benefit of the Next Gen stock car, time in the vehicle during testing sessions, and his first full season with practice and qualifying sessions at all of the races.