Stewart-Haas Racing Has Strong Brickyard Weekend

0
457
Aric Almirola was one of three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers to finish in the top-five during Sunday's Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)
Aric Almirola was one of three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers to finish in the top-five during Sunday's Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Roger Penske may own Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but Stewart-Haas Racing owned the weekend at the Brickyard.

On Saturday, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Chase Briscoe of Mitchell, Ind., won the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard. During Sunday evening’s conclusion of the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400, Stewart-Haas had three cars in the top-five, including the winner for the second year in a row, Kevin Harvick.

Harvick’s teammates Aric Almirola and rookie driver Cole Custer finished third and fifth, respectively.

The only contest Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t win was the NTT IndyCar Series GMR Grand Prix, but for good reason – the team doesn’t compete in IndyCar.

“Well, it’s a really big boost,” Almirola said. “Coming to Indy, it’s a crown jewel event. You want to run good here. It’s such a fastidious race.

“I’m really proud of all the guys at Stewart‑Haas Racing, and girls, everybody that makes this thing go round.  They’ve been putting in some incredible hours. We’ve been going on multiple shift work at the shop.  They’re working all hours of the day just to be able to keep up with this pace of race after race after race with midweek races. It’s put a lot of strain on our organization.

“But we’ve seen the resilience and the grit of our race team. It’s been incredible.

“And Cole Custer finishing fifth, that’s great. I think he’s been learning the ropes. He’s figured out that the jump from Xfinity to Cup is a big jump. He’s doing a great job. He’s learning.  He’s bringing cars home in one piece. He’s continuing to build and get better.

“He had a great run today. So really proud of Cole.”

Custer played a key role on the final restart of the race with three laps to go when he ran into the back of Harvick’s Ford to give him the momentum needed to pull ahead of the second line of cars, led by second-place Matt Kenseth.

The move worked perfectly.

Cole Custer (41) earned the first top-five finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)
Cole Custer (41) earned the first top-five finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)

“You are always hoping that you can kind of clear it and go,” Custer said. “It is awesome to have all of SHR running well here at Indy. It is Tony’s (Stewart) backyard so it is a huge race for us. For us, our team, this package has been exactly the opposite of what I am used to driving. For it to all come together today means a lot. Thanks to all the guys at SHR for bringing great race cars. HaasTooling.com went national this week, so check them out. I am psyched. I am really happy we finally had it all come together.”

Custer’s impressive race came at one of the most difficult tracks for stock cars on the schedule.

“I am getting better with the cars and knowing what to expect when we go to the track and getting better at what to bring in the cars to the track,” Custer said. “It is a work in progress and having no practice doesn’t help that. I think it is all starting to come to us.”

For Almirola, the impressive streak of top-five finishes in recent races has given him even more confidence that a victory is within his reach.

“I would say for most of my career I would show up to the race track and hope to have good runs,” he said. “In 2018 about summertime all the way through the playoffs, I showed up to the race track with a lot of confidence, feeling like we could win on any given weekend. We had several opportunities slip away. We were able to go to victory lane at Talladega. We probably had four or five races that year that we could have won. They got away from us.

“In 2019, quite frankly, we struggled. I could never find any sort of consistency running up front. It was very sporadic.

“I’m thoroughly impressed with this whole 10 team. We’ve been bringing really fast cars to the race track. I feel like every weekend we expect to run top five now.”