Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stewart-Haas Racing 2018 Bristol II Race Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing 2018 Bristol II Race Advance

Aric Almirola - Clint Bowyer
Kurt Busch - Cole Custer

Aric Almirola

This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for “America’s Night Race.” 

Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) earned a solid sixth-place finish at the “Last Great Colosseum” during this year’s spring event and are looking to continue their success there Saturday night.

The stop at Bristol should provide confidence for the 34-year-old Almirola as he was the top finishing SHR driver during the spring race – one of his 10 top-10 finishes this season. In addition to gaining more confidence, Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion will have Smithfield’s Anytime Favorites brand adorning the car.

Question: What has it been like driving for a high-performance team like Stewart-Haas Racing this season?

“The performance speaks for itself and you can see it week in and week out. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars are a threat. They’re running in the top-five, leading laps and challenging for wins and we’re putting ourselves in position to win races with all four of our cars. It’s been fun. Its fun when you get on the airplane for whatever racetrack you’re going to and you feel like you’re going to have a shot to win.”

Clint Bowyer

Every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver deals with pressure, but Clint Bowyer might be under a little more than usual Saturday night in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Since 2017, Bowyer has driven for owners Gene Haas and three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart as part of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR.) Driving for Stewart, a future Hall of Fame driver, is one thing, but this weekend Bowyer’s Ford Fusion will also carry the logos of Rush Truck Centers and Cummins Inc.

Cummins’global headquarters is in Columbus, Indiana – Stewart’s hometown.

“That’s a lot of pressure,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “Not only do I have to continue filling Tony’s seat, now I’ve got his hometown company’s logo on the side of my Ford. He’s going to have high expectations, I’m sure, but it’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m glad Cummins has joined us.”

Cummins makes its first appearance on the No. 14 Ford Fusion Saturday night, but it is a household name to most motorsports fans.

Kurt Busch

The folks who cover and follow NASCAR are of course talking about the “Big Three.” Kevin Harvick has seven victories, Kyle Busch has six wins and Martin Truex Jr., has four checkered flags.

They make up the top-three in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points. But fourth on the list is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

Busch has 14 top-10 finishes and has been in the top-10 in points for 18 consecutive weeks, his longest such stretch since 2016. But he has yet to score a victory this year.

Fortunately for Busch, the night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is next on the schedule. Busch has five wins, 10 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s at the .533-mile concrete oval and has led 1,062 laps in 35 career starts there.

Question: Talk about Bristol Motor Speedway – you’ve won there five times.

“I don’t know what it is about the track. My first couple times there, I was blown away by the speed and intensity of it. When I went back in the spring of 2002, everything slowed down and it was like I had a perfect manual on how to get around there. That was all brought to me by Jimmy Fenning (former crew chief from Roush-Fenway Racing). He really helped calm me down and told me the different points to look for. The biggest key is knowing when to run hard and when not to run hard. If you try to run hard every single lap, you’re not going to make it. There are certain points in the race when you run hard and there are certain points when you’re not necessarily cruising, but just trying to maintain the right pace. You go hard, and then you save a little bit and then you go hard again because you saved a little bit. It’s a matter of applying it at the right time.”

Cole Custer

While the Food City 300 will be Cole Custer’s third Xfinity Series start at Bristol, it will also be his eighth overall start at the .533-mile oval in East Tennessee. Custer has three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and two NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts at Bristol. Custer’s career-best Bristol finish is sixth in the 2016 Truck Series race.

While it wasn’t his best finish, Custer’s most impressive performance at Bristol was in the 2015 Truck Series race. He started fifth and led twice for a race-high 111 laps, holding off a handful of veterans including Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Kyle Busch. But when Custer was coming up on Spencer Gallagher to put him a lap down less than 40 laps from the finish, Gallagher spun in front of Custer. With nowhere to go, Custer collided with him, all but ending his race. He finished 16th.

Question: What does it take to cross the finish line first at Bristol?

“I think the biggest thing now is trying to make a good decision on what you think the VHT is going to do in the race and make good adjustments to your car for that. I think your line will change throughout the weekend and in the race as the VHT changes, and it will also depend on how they put it down. Usually, it seems like we start running the top in the race, though.”

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