Tony Stewart might be eager for a new NASCAR season but the Hall of Famer made it clear Tuesday subpar results for Stewart-Haas Racing will not be tolerated.
“God, I hope so,” Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about his optimism for a good season ahead. “We’ve had two miserable years in a row and I’m tired of taking the blame for everybody (for) why the cars aren’t running (well). I think the fans need a reality check and a reminder that I’m not the crew chief, I’m not the engineer, I don’t dictate the setups on the cars. I give these guys the tools to do the job and we just haven’t got it done the last couple of years.”
Stewart-Haas Racing went winless with its four Cup Series teams last season. Kevin Harvick’s two victories in the summer of 2022 were the last time the organization – on the Cup Series side – has had something to celebrate. Harvick was the only Stewart-Haas driver to earn a playoff berth in 2023, ultimately finishing 13th in the standings.
“But I’m excited about the energy at the shop,” Stewart continued. “We kind of had a rah-rah meeting, and I will say having four young drivers in the shop, as much as I was really nervous about it, I’m really excited about the energy that it’s brought to the shop. … Having four young drivers isn’t something I thought I would have, but I will say it’s been a surprise and a shock and a pleasant surprise the energy these guys have brought to the race shop this offseason.”
Harvick is now retired and of the four drivers in the Stewart-Haas stable this season, only Chase Briscoe has ever won a race. Briscoe, going into his fourth year as a Cup Series driver, won in the spring of 2022. Josh Berry, a rookie, inherits Harvick’s car while Noah Gragson takes over the No. 10 from Aric Almirola. Ryan Preece returns to the organization for his second season.
“They’ve got all the guys fired up,” Stewart said. “We’re going to be on top of this and if we don’t come out of the box and do better, obviously Daytona being a restrictor plate track we’re not going to hang our whole season on the Daytona 500… we’re going to have to get some races into it but if we’re not having the results we’re looking for, we’re going to start making some major changes. Everybody knows that, everybody understands that, and it’s those guys jobs at SHR to take what we have and make it better.
“It doesn’t mean we have to go out and win eight or 10 races this season, but we need to see the needle move in the right direction, we need to make progress. Two years ago, the first year with the new car, you can understand that you might have an off season trying to figure out a new product but to have that bad of a season two years in a row, we will not stand for that and let that be the standard.”
NASCAR debuted its seventh-generation race car in 2022, which was two years after Harvick had a nine-win season and won the regular-season championship. Over the last three seasons, Stewart-Haas Racing drivers combined for four victories.
Stewart didn’t shy away from the new car being a struggle for the organization. In addressing the company recently, Stewart told them everything is “in front of us now” because they are at the bottom of the barrel and no one is chasing them. It was a message Stewart believes resonated with everyone about putting their noses down and digging in even more.
“Everyone in that building understands what we did the last two years isn’t acceptable anymore, and that’s not the standard this team has been accustomed to,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a lot of banners hanging from the ceiling that show we know how to do it right and we’ve got two of those banners that show we know how to do it right for an entire season. So, it’s not that we don’t know how to do it, it’s just a matter of putting it together.
“Not that they haven’t been working hard before but they are going to have to find something or we’ll find people who will find it. Because we can’t perform at this level. It’s just not acceptable anymore.”
Stewart has been heavily criticized in recent years for the many business ventures he’s involved with in addition to the NASCAR team, some claiming he’s distracted or an absentee owner who doesn’t care. Between owning teams in different disciplines, owning racing series, racetracks and competing in other series, Stewart is not at the NASCAR track every weekend.
Such criticism “absolutely baffles” Stewart, as if his presence will make the cars go faster. Stewart bluntly responded to the idea saying, “Well, when I am at the racetrack, there’s nothing that I do. I just follow along and watch and cheerlead. That’s my job on race weekends. It doesn’t matter if I’m there or not, the performance isn’t going to change if I’m there or if I’m absent.”
Stewart’s presence will not change this year as the 52-year-old goes full-time NHRA Top Fuel drag racing.
“I have the opportunity to do some pretty stuff this year and drive the fastest car I’ll ever drive in my life and I’m not going to sit there and worry about what everybody else thinks about whether I’m there or not,” Stewart said. “If you have half a brain, you’re going to understand how this all works and realize we may not be at the track but we’re not absent from what’s been going on. So, (you) don’t have to be at the track to make the cars go faster. We need to worry about the stuff Monday through Thursday before these cars leave for the racetrack and fix that part.
“I’m excited; I’ve seen the enthusiasm change in the shop in the offseason with these new young guys coming in. We’re all sad that we lost two of our buddies with Kevin and Aric, but we all know we got four young guys … there’s not lack of enthusiasm there. It’s been fun this offseason to watch these guys interact with their crews and see the excitement on these guys faces. I’m excited for the year. I think we have a lot to look forward to.”