New top driver at Stewart-Haas Racing?

Kevin Harvick has been Stewart-Haas Racing’s top NASCAR Cup Series driver for most of the past decade, but Chase Briscoe could be on track to change that.

While Kevin Harvick has been the face of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in the NASCAR Cup Series for several years, it was Chase Briscoe who received most of the attention during the 2022 playoffs.

Harvick was eliminated after the first round of the postseason, with two DNFs preceding a 10th place result at Bristol Motor Speedway. He ultimately finished 15th in the point standings, relegated by a 100-point penalty that he received after the round of 12 races at Talladega Superspeedway.

Even without the penalty, Harvick still would have finished behind Briscoe, who got hot in the playoffs. Briscoe entered the final 10 races as the 12th seed and advanced to the round of 8, where a DNF at Homestead-Miami Speedway put him in a must-win situation for the penultimate event.

The driver of the #14 Ford stayed out during a late caution at Martinsville Speedway to take the lead. He led 25 laps before being passed by Christopher Bell with five laps to go. While he came just short of a Championship 4 berth, he ended the season in ninth place in the standings, with six top 10 finishes in the last seven races.

Briscoe finished the year with a win at Phoenix Raceway, six top five finishes, 10 top 10 finishes, and an average finish of 17.3.

“I don’t think anybody thought we were going to win a race, even in our second year,” said Briscoe in a video released by SHR after the Martinsville race. “When the playoffs started, everybody doubted us…but I felt like I knew what we were capable of when we did everything right…it was just a matter of putting it all together and I feel like we finally did that for a lot of the playoffs.”

Despite Briscoe’s strong playoff run, it was still Harvick who posted the best overall numbers for SHR this season.

While the veteran racer was somewhat forgotten about down the stretch, 2022 was still another year in which Harvick was the top dog at SHR.

He led the team with two wins, nine top five finishes, 17 top 10 finishes, and an average finish of 14.3. The wins came back-to-back in late summer. Before finding victory lane for the first time in nearly two years, Harvick was in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009, so his wins added to his reputation of being “the closer”.

Harvick has consistently led SHR in single-season stat categories since joining the organization in 2014. He has had the most top five finishes, top 10 finishes, and best average finish every year, while scoring the most wins in all but one season (2021 ) when he went winless for the first time since 2009. He has also recorded the best points finish in all but two seasons.

The fact that Harvick has continually produced SHR’s best results is extra impressive considering that the team has run four full-time cars in each of these seasons, and with notable teammates such as Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer.

While it’s never safe to bet against Harvick maintaining a high level of success, Briscoe’s strong playoff run could be a sign of things to come.

Briscoe showed the type of improvement between his rookie and sophomore seasons that a team owner would hope for. He scored his first career win, first top five finishes, and a much-increased number of top 10 finishes over 2021.

He also finished near mid-pack in the playoffs after a points finish of 23rd place last year. His average finish only improved slightly, by 2.3 positions, but it was still a move in the right direction.

Briscoe has shown this ability to improve quickly in the past. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he ran 16 more races in 2019 (33) than he did during his rookie season (17). He recorded 12 additional top five finishes and 22 additional top 10 finishes, while increasing his average finish by 10.0 spots between the two years.

He then had a breakout campaign in his third season, particularly in the win column. He recorded nine victories in 2020, marking his first multi-win season, along with 1,032 laps led (an increase of 835 laps led over 2019), and a trip to the Championship 4.

Briscoe drove for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste in both 2019 and 2020, so that big jump was made with the same team. Given his success down the stretch, it’s possible that he’ll find similar success in his third Cup Series season.

In addition to Briscoe’s personal gains, Harvick has shown a bit of a decline. He followed a nine-win 2020 season with a winless 2021 campaign, and his best results this year were largely spread out. Statistically, the last couple of years have been his worst at SHR.

While it would be tempting to trust the proven success of Harvick over the relative inexperience of Briscoe, recent trends seem to suggest that 2023 could see a changing of the guard at SHR, when Briscoe will have a great chance of ending Harvick’s reign as the team’s top drivers.

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