All four Stewart-Haas cars finished strong

Lee Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service Sunday, Mar 31 751

Stewart-Haas Racing enjoyed its best results of 2019.

For the second race this season—and the second time on an intermediate track—all four SHR Fords finished in the top 10.

Clint Bowyer led the charge with a second-place finish, his first top-five result since Atlanta Motor Speedway five weeks ago.

“We had to unclog ourselves,” said Bowyer after starting 25th. “Once we unclogged ourselves, we were really good.

“Our Mustangs were fast all weekend long. Took a while for our Mustang to get good. This Rush Trucks Center Cummins car, to be honest, was a little off all weekend long. I was pretty nervous coming into the race. Mike (Bugarewicz, crew chief) and everybody made some good adjustments, and then lean on your teammates.”

SHR placed two drivers on the podium. Daniel Suarez led nine laps before finishing a season-best third.

“I’m happy,” Suarez said. “The entire weekend was strong for us. We had the speed all weekend long. I feel like we had for sure a top-five car and at times probably the best car out there on the long run.

“We were just trying to find the right balance back and forth, but I’m just very proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford Performance, and especially from the 41 guys. They worked extremely hard to bring a good piece for Texas and we did it, so I’m grateful.”

Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick finished seventh and eighth, respectively. With his sixth-consecutive top-10 finish, Harvick moved up to third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings. He trails leader Kyle Busch by 33 points. 

 

TROUBLE FOR TEAM PENSKE

Team Penske suffered through a calamity of errors at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

After a stellar start to the season, each of the three Team Penske Ford Mustangs ended up on pit road with hoods up throughout the course of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Brad Keselowski, who entered the weekend with two wins to his credit, was the first casualty on Lap 90. The team took the car to the garage for repairs.

“Something broke out of nowhere,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t going very fast or anything and something in the back of the car broke and it won’t go.”

Keselowski returned to the track on Lap 148 and used the remaining 186 circuits as a test with his car as he was out of contention. He finished 36th.

Joey Logano led eight laps and won the first stage before the hood on the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang became loose in the second stage. He pitted on Lap 172 while pit road was still closed. Logano dropped to 20th, one lap down when the race restarted on Lap 178.

“Something came apart in the bracing underneath the hood, I believe, and then the hood started flaring all over the place,” said Logano, who finished 17th. “The hood was gonna blow off the car if we didn’t get a caution, so we were able to fix it but went down a lap and there weren’t enough cautions to ever get the lucky dog.

“We won a stage. I was proud of the speed that was in the car. Our car was capable of winning the race.”

Ryan Blaney was the last Penske racer to experience an issue. Unfortunately, his issue was terminal. Blaney had led 45 laps when his No. 12 Ford started overheating.

“A part broke off and leaked all the water out, so that’s the way it goes,” said Blaney. “It just seems that’s the way this season is going. We’ve had a shot to win pretty much every race and something happens.

“That’s getting old, but the car is fast. That’s the bright side, but I’m kind of tired of looking at the bright side. I want to actually start finishing where we should. It’s just one of those days.”

 

NOT BAD FOR A ROOKIE CHIEF

After Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag for the second time this season, crew chief Chris Gabehart quipped over the radio, “I can’t wait until we start executing.”

Gabehart’s mixed emotions are understandable.

With a speeding penalty, an uncontrolled tire and Hamlin simply missing the pits during one scheduled stop, the crew chief’s concerns are warranted.

“Every race thus far I can point to key scenarios in the race that had we fixed that, whatever that is, it's been different every week, we would have finished better than we finished,” Gabehart said. “We haven't optimized our races yet. That’s encouraging now.”

In his first season with the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry team—and his first year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series—Gabehart still feels there is room to grow.

“You're racing against the best teams in the world,” he added. “It's difficult to have a flawless race. It's not an easy thing. It's one thing to identify, it's another thing to fix. That's something we got to work on.

“The exciting thing is we never leave the racetrack guessing where we could have did better. So in that regard, we definitely haven't reached our potential.”