By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Stewart-Haas Racing has had a rather miserable season. Just nothing have really gone the four-car organization’s way. For half of the entries, that all changed in Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Aric Almirola, who scored his first top-five of the year thanks to a fourth place result. Kevin Harvick was a spot behind his SHR teammate for his fifth top-five, the first since finishing second at Kansas in May.
Almirola won the Busch Pole Award earlier in the day after putting a superb qualifying run. To the surprise of people as the past month has been all about Hendrick Motorsports. When the 300-lap race was over, it was still the same organization that dominated the headlines with Kyle Larson accomplishing the three-peat.
Despite Almirola admitting having nothing on the Chevrolet machines, he appreciates the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang’s effort. Along with a strong All-Star Racing outing at Texas, Nashville was a continuation of the luck he’s sorely needed.
“We have made huge strides to close the gap,” said Almirola. “Our race team is doing a great job scrounging and scrapping to build better race cars. It’s nice to come here and run up front, run in the top five and at least be in the mix, so it feels good.
“We’ll just keep building on it. The All-Star Race was a good race for us. Today, again, was a good race for us, so we’ll just keep grinding.”
Boss man Tony Stewart, fresh off of winning the SRX race at Knoxville the day before, was at the 1.333-mile oval. Almirola noted having “Smoke” brings tremendous confidence to the entire organization.
“That wasn’t the magic to make our race cars go fast, but it was certainly nice to have him here. Tony is a great morale booster,” said Almirola. “He’s our boss and we all look up to him and appreciate when he’s here at the racetrack, so it was certainly nice to have him here and see his smiling face and have him walking around patting everybody on the back. It’s nice.”
Perhaps the show car of the year was Harvick sporting the Grave Digger colors. The collaboration with the legendary monster truck was initiated by Kevin’s son Keelan. Fast forward to Father’s Day, we saw bit Harvick’s strong top-five run people are used to seeing for nearly a decade.
It took some time getting there because Harvick dealt with a loose car. Adjustments had to be made on the No. 4 Mustang throughout the day. Fortunately, the car felt much better during the second half of the contest.
Harvick felt his car was the second best among the 39-car field and better than third-place finisher William Byron. However, some racing contact between them impacted Harvick’s machine.
“That made it a little bit tighter. I thought we were better than the 24,” said Harvick. “(Ross Chastain) had fresh tires and (Almirola), I thought we were better than those cars. (Larson) was kind of in a league of his own, but once again the guys did a great job and ground away at it and came away with a top five out of gas.”
SHR are hoping to continue their much needed momentum in the Pocono Raceway doubleheader. It was one of the tracks Harvick won last year. Perhaps “The Tricky Triangle” could be the venue where he might stop Larson’s dominance and snap his winless streak.
With 17 races down and nine left in the regular season, Harvick improved from ninth to eighth. Almirola remains 28th in the championship standings.