By Jordan McAbee
In a somewhat shocking announcement just three days after the season-opening Daytona 500, Ford Performance let it be known that Stewart-Haas Racing–who currently fields the #4, #10, #14, and #14 Chevrolets driven by Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch, respectively–will be switching to Ford at the start of the 2017 season. They will race with engines prepared by Roush Yates, who currently provides engines (most prominently) to Penske Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing, among other teams. Clint Bowyer will be joining the SHR organization next year as well, taking over the #14 car for Tony Stewart, who is retiring after an 18-year Sprint Cup career.
Stewart-Haas Racing has fielded two championship teams in the last five years, taking home the crown with Tony Stewart in 2011 and, most recently, Kevin Harvick in 2004. The organization, which was “created” in 2009 when Tony Stewart became part owner, has raced Chevrolets since inception. Before that, it was just Haas CNC Racing, which started full-time in NASCAR’s top series in 2003, racing Pontiacs until switching to Chevrolet in 2004.
The Boost of Stewart-Haas Switching to Ford
It was apparent during the 2015 season that the Penske Fords driven by Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski had a significant edge over the rest of the Sprint Cup field during qualifying on most race weekends. During the race itself, Logano was a perennial front runner for many Sprint Cup events, and he led the series with 6 victories throughout the season. And if it wasn’t for the altercations between him and Matt Kenseth, many believe that Logano would have remained the championship favorite through Homestead.
However, the Chevrolets at Stewart-Haas haven’t exactly been slow on the speed charts. Kevin Harvick has arguably been the fastest week-in and week-out competitor over the last two season. During the 2015 campaign, he finished 1st or 2nd in 16 of the 36 points-paying races and led 22% of all the laps ran during the season.
Still, the decision to switch manufacturers is one that any team takes plenty of time with. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment conclusion reached by Stewart-Haas, and it’s “out of left field” announcement is one that has raised many questions just one week into the new NASCAR year. Ladies and gentlemen, let the Silly Season begin!
What’s Going On With Chevrolet?
Perhaps the most alarming question being raised this morning is, what is going on with Chevrolet? Between the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, Furniture Row Racing, which fields the #78 car driven by Martin Truex, Jr., switched over from Chevy to Toyota in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. And if the Daytona 500 was any indication, it could be a very good year for those two racing organizations (read more about that here). Many industry experts believe that NASCAR’s new low downforce rules package will benefit the JGR Toyotas the most.
With Stewart-Haas making the switch to Ford in 2017, that’s five total Sprint Cup cars that will have left the Chevrolet power plant in the last two years, equaling out to one-eighth of the now 40-car field. Hendrick Motorsports, which has consistently fielded some of the best cars in the Sprint Cup series over the last few decades, is likely to remain with Chevy, as are the Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing cars. With that being said, not many saw this move coming from Stewart-Haas, so who’s to say we won’t see another NASCAR power player jump ship, too?
It definitely makes you wonder whether there’s something going on at Chevrolet and whether teams are concerned about future speed with the manufacturer.