View From the Virtual Pit Box

SHR Crew Chiefs Offer Their Take on iRacing

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” This is an ancient Chinese proverb, and it’s particularly apt when it comes to NASCAR and its embrace of iRacing.

With the entire sports world shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus, NASCAR – the 72-year-old purveyor of ground-pounding speed – has found its windmill in iRacing, specifically, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is an exhibition esports series featuring a collection of actual racecar drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. It kicked off last Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway and it is a multi-week series emulating the original 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

It has been an unabashed success, with the series’ second race taking place this Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway with live coverage on FOX.

Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead was the single most-watched esports event in U.S. history. The race drew 903,000 viewers on FS1, besting the previous high of 770,000 viewers when Mortal Kombat aired on The CW in 2016. The race was the highest-rated broadcast on FS1 since mass postponements of sporting events began on March 15. During the race, the #ProInvitationalSeries was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the U.S.

But while the drivers have been hands-on in this endeavor, what do their crew chiefs think? In the real world, they’re always hands-on, with an assortment of tools occupying their hands regularly. But in the sim world, they’re bystanders.

“The iRacing event that took place at Homestead last weekend was quite revolutionary, not only for our sport, but for all sports in general,” said Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief for NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “It gave us something to do and something to watch on Sunday, and it gave the drivers some seat time. While it’s not perfect to what the real world is, it still forces them to make a call from a crew chief’s perspective. Not every call is so easy.”

SHR’s Johnny Klausmeier, crew chief for Clint Bowyer and the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 team, provided an example.

“The most interesting thing to me was the tire strategy with the guys taking none, two or four tires. It seemed very realistic, especially at Homestead-Miami Speedway where you have a lot of tire fall off. Guys could get their track position, but after 10 laps, the tires were wearing out and they were shuffling around, moving and jockeying.

“As a crew chief, I wanted to put my hands on things and work on the car. So, it was different for the drivers to be able to just instantly change things and make the car different on the computer. It was neat and a great show for the fans.”

While the racecar is obviously important, the track is the other key element. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick and SHR’s No. 4 Busch Light team, was impressed with how real a track’s idiosyncrasies were detailed in iRacing.

“The racetracks are really accurate, with the bumps and the features and all of that stuff,” Childers said. “From a visual side of things, it’s probably very beneficial for the drivers.”

One of those drivers is Chase Briscoe, pilot of the No. 98 Performance Racing School Ford Mustang for SHR in the Xfinity Series. Briscoe’s crew chief, Richard Boswell, believes the time his driver spends on iRacing makes him better in general.

“Laps are laps, regardless of what car it is or what type of simulator it’s on,” Boswell said. “The repetition of seeing the markers at certain tracks and feeling the bumps is a great way to stay sharp. Of course, there’s the added advantage of Chase having a motion rig where he can get a more realistic feel for each track, not just in the steering wheel but in his seat.

“I sure am glad my driver is spending this time wisely. I know when we finally get back to racing, he will be as ready as anyone. So will his team!”

Boswell, like everyone in NASCAR, is eagerly awaiting the resumption of real racing, but he has embraced the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and the newfound time at home.

“This is a great way to keep fans connected to our sport considering the difficult times our country is facing. I applaud FOX, NASCAR, iRacing, the sponsors and all of the folks who have participated in bringing this event to our homes. Even my little girls were excited to see some sort of racing on TV. The only difference was they could root for their favorite driver, Chase Briscoe, with daddy instead of without him.”


About Stewart-Haas Racing:

Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based organization has won two NASCAR Cup Series titles, one NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and more than 70 NASCAR races, including such crown-jewel events as the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. For more information, please visit us online at, on Facebook at, on Twitter at @StewartHaasRcng, on Instagram at @StewartHaasRacing and on YouTube at

Brave New Schedule

Necessity Brings Opportunity When NASCAR Racing Returns

Words matter. For example, there’s a big difference between “postponed” and “canceled”. Postponed means to defer, or to put off until a later time. Canceled, meanwhile, means to make void, revoke or annul.

NASCAR has been on hiatus since the coronavirus outbreak suspended the entire sports industry, but its races have only been postponed, which means all will eventually happen. But for an entity that lays claim to the longest season in all of professional sports – one that spans 36 point-paying races across 10 months from early February to November – rescheduling those postponed races will require some creative thinking.

Midweek shows? Why not? Doubleheaders? Sure. In fact, NASCAR has performed the former numerous times with the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Since its inception in 2013, the Truck Series race at Eldora has owned a midweek date in July. This year’s race is slated for Thursday, July 30. A doubleheader, meanwhile, is already slated for June 27-28 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway with the flagship NASCAR Cup Series.

Certainly more midweek races and doubleheader weekends can satisfy the appetite of NASCAR fans hungry for real racing action, while also serving as the solution for rescheduling postponed events.

“If you’ve followed me, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about changing things up when it comes to the schedule,” said Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion who drives the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “When it comes to the 2021 schedule, NASCAR was already looking outside the box of things we can do differently. Out of necessity, how we configure race weekends and when we race will have to be figured out for when we get back to racing this year. It’s actually not a bad thing. Change is different, but it can be good, and we’ll have to think differently and be open-minded to what the rest of this year’s schedule ends up looking like.”

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for SHR, is of the same mindset as Harvick.

“NASCAR has been pretty straightforward in saying that all options are on the table, including midweek races and more doubleheaders. I’m even more intrigued to see what the TV viewership would look like. I think a midweek race would resonate really well. Fans who worked all day can come home, eat dinner and then relax on the couch while we put on a show. I think it would be pretty cool for them.”

While the Atlanta race weekend originally scheduled for March 13-15 ended up getting postponed, a revised schedule saw a Saturday-only timeline where the NASCAR Cup Series qualified at 11 a.m. and raced at 2 p.m. Practice was scuttled entirely in an effort to get everything completed in a single day.

“I think as soon as everyone got to Atlanta and saw the schedule change, it raised an eyebrow,” said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for SHR. “We said, ‘Hey, we can do these races in a day.’ I was fine with it. You know we need to do whatever we can do to put on a show for all these fans across the country. If all we have time for is a one-day show, then so be it. I think we can provide enough bang for their buck.”

But what if a condensed schedule meant little to no practice?

“Teams have a lot of data simulation to predict how their car is going drive and handle at a particular track, but it’s not always perfect,” Almirola said. “Oftentimes, we show up to the racetrack, make changes, and make the car better from the time we unload until we get ready for the race. And it helps the driver to just pick up some reference points and kind of adapt to what you have for the balance in your car that weekend.

“Practice is always helpful, even if it’s just a little bit. It would present a challenge to not practice, but it would at least be the same for everybody.” 

Almirola, like his SHR teammates Harvick and Bowyer, are NASCAR Cup Series veterans. But for a rookie seeing some of these venues for the first time, track time is even more cherished.

“Being a rookie, I would rather have the practice session to get a feel for the car and the track going into the race,” said Cole Custer, the first-year driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for SHR. “It would be a little harder just getting one or two qualifying laps in and then going racing. Any time on the racetrack as a rookie is huge – the more, the better. If all we did was qualify, like we were set to do at Atlanta, it would put a lot of emphasis on our preparation going into the weekend. For me, practice is just really important so we can work on the car and get used to the track.”

No matter what the revised calendar ends up being, drivers will adapt.

“In every crisis situation, there are things to be learned and positives to bring out of it,” Bowyer said. “There’s certainly the opportunity to do a midweek race or a one-day show or a doubleheader. All those options are on the table.”

And after a hiatus that will last almost as long as the traditional offseason, how will drivers pick up where they left off when the series departed Phoenix Raceway back on March 8?

“During the offseason, I’m very relaxed, but this is so different,” Almirola said. “My mind is still so focused on racing. I’m continuing to work out and I go through the week with a schedule and stay in shape because, quite honestly, I think it’s going to be even more important to be in tip-top shape when we’re ready to go and the season does start back up because we’re going to be racing a lot.

“We’re talking about running races on the weekend, then midweek, then another the following weekend. If we do that, running three races in a week is going to be a lot. Recovering after the race and getting your body and mind prepped for the next race in a short period of time will be important. I’m focused on eating right, getting plenty of protein, and staying in shape to be as ready as possible for whatever this season has in store for us.”


About Stewart-Haas Racing:

Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based organization has won two NASCAR Cup Series titles, one NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and more than 70 NASCAR races, including such crown-jewel events as the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. For more information, please visit us online at, on Facebook at, on Twitter at @StewartHaasRcng, on Instagram at @StewartHaasRacing and on YouTube at


Tony Stewart ‘Free Wheeling’ with Newfound Free Time

Born in 1971, Tony Stewart grew up in a robust era of car culture, where manufacturers catered directly to the consumer with unabashedly loud graphics splashed across premium versions of its cars and trucks.

One of the most prominent and iconic graphics packages came from Ford, and it’s one that caught the eye of NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart when he was an 8-year-old racing go-karts in and around his hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

Ford’s Free Wheeling package featured a bright, kaleidoscope color palate that oozed 70s-era swagger. The limited-edition run was available on the F-100, F-150, Bronco, Econoline van and Courier, and even the Pinto Cruising Wagon. But the Free Wheeling version that resonated the most with Stewart was the one on a black Ford Bronco.

“Every year when we went down to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I would join Edsel Ford and on race morning and we’d judge the Mustang show,” said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. “This past year they had a bunch of Ford Broncos there too, and that got me thinking about those Broncos with those cool graphics packages I remember seeing back when I was still racing go-karts. I started looking around on the internet and when I finally found it, I knew I had to have it.”

It is a 1979 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT. The year prior, the Bronco migrated to the F-series chassis, giving it full-size proportions. The big, tall sides and wide hood provided the ideal canvas for those vivid stripes that signified the Free Wheeling edition. The Bronco, in particular, amplified those bright graphics with blacked-out bumpers and mirrors. And the sharp looks were more than skin deep, as the Bronco came with a rumbling, 400 cubic-inch V8 that made its presence known even while sitting idle as it rode on quad, heavy-duty shocks and big, 15-by-8-inch wheels. It was this look that Ford featured prominently in its ads, and has since become a cult classic.

“It looks badass,” Stewart said, “but it’s also pretty simple, especially under the hood. I can work on it, and that’s the fun part. There’s an Advance Auto Parts not far down the road from where I went to high school. I can pick up a case of Mobil 1 synthetic, a filter, and do the oil change myself. I can work on it and tinker with it and, you know, I’ve got plenty of time now.”

Stewart, like the rest of the sporting world, is sidelined due to the coronavirus outbreak. Even after retiring as a fulltime NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season, the Hoosier has filled his schedule with nearly 100 sprint car races a year. He’s won 23 of those races across a variety of series since his last NASCAR race at Homestead on Nov. 20, 2016. But not being tied to a schedule for the first time in seemingly forever has provided a glimpse of what resides outside a racetrack.

“The rear roof of the Bronco comes off and, honestly, once the weather gets nice, it’ll probably stay off,” Stewart said. “It’s got captain’s chairs up front, but a big bench seat in the back, and with the roof off, that’ll be awesome. I’ve always thought being able to remove the roof was the coolest thing about these Broncos, and now I’ll get to actually enjoy it.”

As much as Stewart relishes his retro Bronco, he’s acutely aware that a new-generation Bronco is getting ready to debut.

“I’m really looking forward to what the new Bronco will look like,” Stewart said. “We kind of got an idea of what it’ll look like when it ran in the Baja 1000 late last year, but that was more of a prototype than anything. I want to see the real deal.”

Would Stewart like to see that real deal with some retro Free Wheeling stripes?

“I’m sure my ’79 Bronco would make a really good big brother,” Stewart said. “Seeing the new one decked out in black with those retro stripes, it would fit right in.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Kevin Harivck will have a new look for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will be sponsored by Hunt Brothers Pizza and FIELDS, two longtime supporters of Harvick.

Hunt Brothers Pizza has sponsored Harvick in NASCAR for 11 years and last visited victory lane with him when he won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta.

Harvick has also won two NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races with Hunt Brothers as a sponsor at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, both in 2011. The company also sponsored him in the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race in 2014 and 2015, which were conducted at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Harvick finished second in both races.

For 2019, Hunt Brothers moved up to the Cup Series for three races and, in 2020, will be on Harvick’s car five times.

With more than 7,800 locations in 30 states, Hunt Brothers Pizza is the nation’s largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry. Hunt Brothers Pizza offers original and thin crust pizzas available as a grab-and-go “Hunk” perfect for today’s on-the-go lifestyle, or as a customizable whole pizza that is an exceptional value with “All Toppings No Extra Charge®.” Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Hunt Brothers Pizza is family owned and operated with more than 25 years of experience serving great pizza to convenience store shoppers through its store partners. To find a Hunt Brothers Pizza location, download the Hunt Brothers Pizza app by

FIELDS has sponsored Harvick in Xfinity Series races in 2017 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, where he finished sixth, and in June 2018 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, where he scored an eighth-place result. Harvick took FIELDS to victory lane in 2017 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race.

FIELDS, one of the Sports Fields Inc., companies, is the preeminent builder of fields and sports parks in the country. FIELDS is committed to “Building Sports Parks of Distinction.” The fields produced facilitate peak team performance and are constructed using the industry’s best resources and embody the essence of durability, precision, technological innovation, service and quality.

By combining the premium quality of the fields with the best in customer care, FIELDS creates sports parks of distinction that wow teams, coaches and guests.

As both Hunt Brothers and FIELDS have won with Harvick, they’re now teaming up in hopes the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza/FIELDS Ford Mustang will find victory lane at Atlanta.

Harvick has only two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at Atlanta, but has been strong there since 2008 with 12 top-10 finishes in 15 races. He’s led a series-high 1,197 laps and has led 100 laps in six of the last eight races. He’s also won four of his last six NASCAR Xfinity Series races at the 1.54-mile oval.

Atlanta has always been a special place for Harvick as he scored his first career Cup Series victory there in 2001. Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of that year’s Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and made his series debut the following weekend at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th. On March 11, less than one month since his debut in

NASCAR’s top series and in just his third start, Harvick won his first Cup Series race at Atlanta.

Harvick is hoping that he can take two longtime partners to victory lane in Atlanta. And, as a bonus, it would be the site of his first and 50th NASCAR Cup Series wins.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza/FIELDS Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 


You’ve had a solid start to the year so far. What are your thoughts going to Atlanta?

“I don’t know. As you go there, Atlanta is a place where you expect to run well. As you look at all the differences in cars and changes in tires and the differences we’ve had to face this year, you’ve got to go run the race and wrap your arms around where everything is.”

What do you like about the Atlanta Motor Speedway layout?

“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack. It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite and I look forward to racing in Atlanta this weekend.”

You were a rookie in 2001 and won your first race at Atlanta. What do you remember about your rookie year?

“Well, it wasn’t supposed to be my rookie year. We didn’t run the Daytona 500, obviously. And then, you know, Dale Earnhardt died, (I) got in the car the next week, I got married. I think 70 or 71 races between the Cup Series and the Busch Series that year. Raced for both championships. Won my first Cup race, we won a Busch Series championship, we won the Cup rookie of the year. But I was so sheltered from everything that was going on. The only real taste I got of the magnitude of the Earnhardt situation, really, I can think back to and say, ‘You know, that was a massive situation.’ Obviously, I know it was, now. But when I think back to that first press conference that we had in Rockingham and the magnitude and the reach of what was in that tent that day, that was really the only thing I was exposed to that year was, ‘Um, wow, this is a huge moment.’ Even winning that first race and I’m not one to go back and just watch the videos and listen to the chatter of the media and the things that are happening. And we were testing either the Busch car or the Cup car or we were racing. We built our first truck that year. I ran that at Richmond. So there were so many things that were moving around that I honestly don’t remember really anything from that year. Other than, you know, I remember building that truck in Ed Berrier’s garage with my Busch team – with Todd Berrier and those guys. After we would get done at work, they’d come over and help me build the truck. But really, everything else is kind of a blur because there was so much happening. And it wound up being a good thing to be sheltered from what was going on and all the talk and all the hype and everything.”

COLE CUSTER – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Cole Custer and the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will compete at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday in this season’s second event at an intermediate track. Custer will make his first career NASCAR Cup Series start at the 1.54-mile track in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500.

Custer heads to Atlanta coming off of his best career Cup Series finish, ninth, earned at Phoenix Raceway. The young driver was also the highest finishing 2020 Rookie of the Year contender. The Haas Automation driver started 16th and battled an intermittent power steering problem along with a tight-handling Mustang and finished ninth in the 316-lap event. It was a solid day for the four-car SHR organization with all four entries finishing in the top-10 in the season’s fourth race.

For the last five seasons, Atlanta was the second race of the season. The track is significant because it’s a 1.5-mile layout and a majority of the tracks on the Cup Series circuit are that length and similarly shaped. If things go well this weekend at Atlanta for Custer and the SHR organization, it bodes well for the team’s competitiveness on the same style of track for the rest of the season.

SHR has two wins at the Georgia track – Kevin Harvick in 2018 and team co-owner Tony Stewart in September 2010. Additionally, the Kannapolis, North Carolina team has amassed four pole awards and a total of nine top-fives and nine top-10s, in 39 starts there.

Custer has three starts at Atlanta in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with two top-10 finishes in three starts. Last year, he captured the pole position and finished second to Christopher Bell. He has one Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start at Atlanta. He started sixth in 2016 and finished 17th.

In his last nine Xfinity Series starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Custer earned two wins, four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole award. The victories were captured at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. He led a total of 410 laps in the nine starts on his way to an average finishing position of 10.4 and an average starting position of 3.2.

The 22-year-old has made two starts at intermediate tracks behind the wheel of a Cup Series car, both at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The first occurred in March 2018, when he started 30th and finished 25th for the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing team. The second was in his No. 41 Mustang last month, when he started 17th and finished 19th.

“The Xfinity cars have more horsepower than the Cup cars at the bigger tracks, but the Cup cars have a lot more downforce and drag,” Custer said. “The Cup cars are going slower down the straightaways, but much faster in the corners. For me, the biggest difference is getting used to how much speed I can actually carry into the corner with the Cup car, when I’ve been doing something different for three years.”

Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot Oxnard manufacturing facility and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

Even though Custer had a trio of starts in the Cup Series in 2018, 2020 officially marks his Rookie of the Year campaign in NASCAR’s most prestigious series. He’s competing for the honor with notables Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. The three have battled against each other in the Xfinity Series and are making the full-time transition to the Cup Series together.

COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:


What do you do to decompress after a race?

“It’s hard to decompress because all we think about is racing. I try and hang out with friends. We have a lake near the house in North Carolina and I like to go out on the boat with friends as a way to relax. I golf a little here and there, too.”

What is the biggest difference for you between the Xfinity and Cup Series?

“I think, for me, it is getting used to the cars. They are a lot different, especially with the 550 package, and how you work the throttle and everything. How you are going to do that is a lot different than Xfinity. At the same time, you make one little mistake and are a little off in one area, you will lose a ton of spots. Everybody here is pushing it to the limit. Everyone in the top-25 in the Cup Series is probably capable of winning races. It is a matter of trying to perfect every part of it.”

Have you had any pranks pulled on you as a Cup Series rookie?

“Nothing yet, but I’m waiting for it. I feel a guy like (Clint) Bowyer is probably going to be the first one to pull a prank on me. Who wouldn’t pick Bowyer as the first person to do it?”

ARIC ALMIROLA – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Eckrich Ford team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) hit the first of three consecutive 1.5-mile tracks when they arrive at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Cup Series race. It will prove to be a crucial test for the rest of the season with nine mile-and-a-half tracks on the schedule that follow.

Almirola and the No. 10 team earned their first pole award together last year at Atlanta. On race day, he led 36 laps and finished eighth.

Between last year’s pole and this year’s new crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who has a best finish of third at Atlanta, the No. 10 team is expecting significant speed and results this weekend to kick off the three-race, intermediate-track stretch.

“Drivers love to race at tracks that are old and worn out because it gives us options,” Almirola said. “It seems like the times we go to repaves, it gets very narrow and we can only run right in a single groove. When we go to Atlanta, it’s got a lot of character. It’s rough. It’s bouncy. It’s worn out and you slip and slide. We like having that control of cars sliding around and driving it. We really enjoy tracks like Atlanta.”

Almirola and the team have earned two consecutive top-10s and ran inside the top-five last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. He earned eight bonus points and made gains in the point standings.

The Eckrich driver, who will turn 36 on Saturday, has already outpaced his 2018 success in the first four races. He went on to finish fifth in the championship standings after securing his spot in the semifinal playoff round.

Almirola has career totals of two wins, two poles, 18 top-five finishes, 63 top-10s and 543 laps led in 320 starts. His last win came in October 2018 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

The racing action won’t be the only entertainment this weekend at Atlanta. On Sunday morning, Almirola and SHR co-owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will visit the campgrounds at the track to surprise and delight the best tailgaters who are grilling up Eckrich meats in preparation for the race.

Founded in 1894, Eckrich, owned by Smithfield Foods, will adorn the No. 10 Ford Mustang this weekend at Atlanta. Eckrich was founded as a local meat market in Fort Wayne, Indiana, by Peter Eckrich, an immigrant from Waldsee, Germany. Eckrich sells high quality smoked sausages, cold cuts, hot dogs, corn dogs, Vienna sausages, breakfast sausages, and bacon.

Almirola continues to provide fans with content from his documentary series Beyond the 10, where fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.

Almirola looks to build upon the momentum he’s gained over the last two race weekends and bring home a third consecutive top-10. He currently sits eighth in the driver standings, 43 points behind leader and teammate Kevin Harvick.

ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Eckrich Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Are you pleased with the progression of the season so far?

“We have found our stride recently as a team and it’s starting to show. We have had a top-10 car in every race this season. Last weekend, we had a fourth- to eighth-place car and raced there all day. We just have to gradually build upon these top-10s and move to top-fives, then move to wins. I know we’re capable of it as a team.

You earned the pole at Atlanta last year and led some laps. Are you confident heading there? 

“We’re definitely confident after running well the last few weekends. We got a pole there last year and ran really well, so there’s nothing but positivity from me. A few more solid runs and we’ll know we’re in it this season as serious competitors.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Compared to last year, Clint Bowyer hopes for a little less drama Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he wouldn’t mind the same result.

Five days after the 2019 season-opening Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series took to the track for Friday qualifying at Atlanta. Instead of flying Thursday night, Bowyer, hoping to spend a few more hours with the family, decided to fly down from his Charlotte, North Carolina-area residence Friday morning in time for the first practice session at 11:35 a.m.

Only problem was the plane he planned to use had a problem and couldn’t fly.

That sent Bowyer into a flurry of travel arrangements that would make actors John Candy and Dan Ackroyd of the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” proud. Bowyer happened to catch a ride with a pilot who was flying to Atlanta for business and the drama ended with Bowyer landing at a downtown Atlanta airport, then driving nearly an hour to the Hampton, Georgia racetrack and arriving just minutes before practice was to begin.

“That was way closer than I ever want to cut it,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “We were all pretty nervous.”

The episode didn’t serve as a distraction.

Hours later, Bowyer put the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang third on the grid by qualifying less than two-tenths of a second behind SHR teammate Aric Almirola, who won the pole. Bowyer went on to finish fifth in Sunday’s 500-mile race. It was his second consecutive top-five and seventh top-10 in 19 career Cup Series starts at Atlanta.

“Our run wasn’t pretty last year but we got a good finish,” Bowyer said. “I knew our car had great speed, obviously, from practice and qualifying. Racing is a different beast, especially at Atlanta. You have to take care of those Goodyear tires. The way I had it, it felt like I was on top of the track skating around too much. We made good air-pressure adjustments and got the grip level back in my racecar to where I could compete. It is just weird. You see cars that are kind of up, cars that are down, cars that are dragging, cars that aren’t. There is no track that we go to anymore that is as slick as this and as hard on tires.”

Bowyer said the rules and tire compound changes over the years at the 1.54-mile oval have changed the way drivers try to preserve their tires.

“Your tire management used to come from your throttle pedal,” Bowyer said. “Now, your speed and everything else are all wide open, so your tire management comes through the way you and your team get the balance on your racecar instead of you and your car doing the managing with the throttle pedal. You don’t lean on the wheel unless you have to and, if you have to, you better not have to for very long. The game has changed. When they took the horsepower away, the tire management and Goodyear changing the tire has drastically changed that aspect.”

This weekend’s race marks the first in the eastern half of the country since the rain-delayed, season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, where Bowyer finished sixth. Since then, the Cup Series held events in Las Vegas, Southern California and Phoenix. Bowyer arrives at Atlanta 13th in points. Last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, he qualified 18th, then charged to the front on race day, running as high as second in the closing stages before finishing a season-best fifth.

Bowyer goes to battle at Atlanta carrying the black-and-red paint scheme of Haas Automation, Inc. Haas Automation is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Gene Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.


CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Are drivers taking precautions with the coronavirus in terms of autographs and things like that? 

“I think everybody sees the headlines and reads the news just like anybody else. From what I can tell, there are a lot of unknowns and mixed feelings. Some people say it is bad and the next person says it is nothing but a cold. I treat my fans no differently than the next guy. I am going to shake his hand and appreciate him being here.”

What are your thoughts on Atlanta?

“I love Atlanta. I think everybody likes Atlanta. If you are a racecar driver, you get up on the wheel and are slipping and sliding around. You work your ass off there. That is what you look for in a racetrack. Vegas, I really struggled there. The hardest thing to do was to not overdrive it. Coming from a dirt background, the harder you drive her, the faster she goes. The harder you work, the faster it goes. With that thing and the speed you are going and the aero platform you have, it is very easy to overdrive the car and blow through the grip in the tires.”

This year, it seems if a car is fast in qualifying, it won’t be fast in the race. Are you experiencing that? 

Really, your aero platform and all that stuff has to jive. Your aero has to communicate and work well with your chassis balance, and vice versa. It’s the total package. It’s not just that you missed it with 100 pounds too much right-rear spring, or 50 too much of left-rear wedge, or a track bar adjustment. It’s all tied together from the aero side of things and the chassis side of things. They really have to work well together. If not, you are spinning your wheels.”

CHASE BRISCOE – 2020 NXS Atlanta Race Advance

Event:  EchoPark 250 (Round 5 of 33)
Date:  March 14, 2020
Location:  Atlanta Motor Speedway
Layout:  1.54-mile oval

Chase Briscoe Notes of Interest


●  The EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the fifth event on the 33-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule. It will mark Briscoe’s 55th career Xfinity Series start and his third at Atlanta.

●  Briscoe comes into Atlanta second in the championship standings, just three points behind series leader Harrison Burton after a sixth-place finish last Saturday at Phoenix Raceway. It was Briscoe’s third top-10 of the season and his third top-10 in three career Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix.

●  Briscoe won the 2019 rookie-of-the-year title in the Xfinity Series and is racing for a championship in 2020. The Mitchell, Indiana-native is a three-time winner in the Xfinity Series and the 2016 ARCA Racing Series champion. Briscoe finished fifth in the Xfinity Series championship standings last year, narrowly missing out on advancing to the Championship 4 and competing for the series title.

●  Briscoe has two Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta, both resulting in 15th-place finishes (2018 and 2019). He also made a NASCAR Truck Series start at the track in 2017.

● returns to Briscoe’s No. 98 Ford Mustang as the primary sponsor for Atlanta. The IT infrastructure and solutions company made its debut with Briscoe in the season-opening race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where Briscoe finished fifth.


CHASE BRISCOE, Driver of the No. 98 Ford Mustang:


You finished 15th at Atlanta last year and, as the season went on, your progress at intermediate tracks was evident, with it all coming to fruition earlier this year when you won at Las Vegas. How confident are you in your return to Atlanta?

“We were having a good day last year at Atlanta. We were running third or fourth and we blew a right front (tire) with about 15 to go. So, I’m really confident going there that we’ll be able to not just pick up where we left off before that issue, but be able to come out with a top-five or a win. It’s another one of those places that’s kind of slick and worn out, and I love that type of track. It plays into my dirt-racing background, and it’s just a lot of fun to be on those low-grip tracks. I’ve always had speed at Atlanta. I just haven’t had the results to show for it. So, confidence is high there and I know our Ford Mustang is going to be really good. We were pretty fast there last year and we’re off to a good start with a win on a mile-and-a-half track already this year.”

How much of your performance at Las Vegas can carry over to Atlanta, or are the tracks just completely different?

“The tracks themselves are certainly different, and I feel like our strong suit is the worn-out mile-and-a-halves, although we still do pretty well at the high-grip tracks. I think the biggest thing is to set the tone early, and if you can go to the first mile-and-a-half and show that you’re going to be the guy to beat, hopefully it’ll carry on. We’ve done that now with the win at Vegas, but we’ve got to get back on the right track and finish out the strong runs we’re having. Obviously, trying to run well at the beginning of the year is huge for confidence, not only for myself, but the entire team. When you start winning early, it kind of makes you hungry to keep winning throughout the year, but it also makes it that much more difficult when you have one slip away.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2020 Phoenix I Race Report

Series:              NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format:             312 laps, broken into three stages (75 laps/115 laps/122 laps)
Note:                 Race extended four laps past its scheduled 312-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
Start/Finish:       18th/5th (Running, completed 316 of 316 laps)
Point Standing:  13th with 105 points, 59 out of first

Race Winner:    Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):

  • Clint Bowyer started 18th and finished 11th.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang moved to 14th by lap 15, but Bowyer told the team his car was a little loose.
  • By lap 52 the problem grew worse. As he raced in 20th Bowyer told the crew his car was loose in and off the corner and tight in the middle.
  • Bowyer made his first pit stop of the race on lap 60, where the crew made several adjustments.
  • Bowyer moved to 14th by lap 69.
  • He and Erik Jones raced side-by-side for 10th, but Bowyer fell inches short of bonus points, finishing 11th.
  • Bowyer pitted during the stage break for fuel and new tires.
  • “That was a lot better, and I think the track will come to us,” Bowyer told the crew.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-190):

  • Started 15th, finished eighth to earn three bonus points.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang moved into the top-10 on lap 115 and was eighth by lap 122.
  • Bowyer climbed as high as fifth midway through the stage.
  • He held his position until the final laps, when he said the car was beginning to be very loose.
  • Bowyer finished eighth to earn his first bonus points of the 2020 season.
  • The No. 14 crew made minor handling changes during the stage break. 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-316):

  • Started eighth, finished fifth.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang battled with the No. 10 of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola for sixth in the opening laps of the stage.
  • Bowyer pitted with 92 laps remaining, taking four tires and restarting the race in 14th.
  • Bowyer moved to 11th with 75 laps remaining.
  • Another round of stops under caution saw Bowyer restart the race in 13th with 55 laps remaining.
  • He jumped to seventh on the restart before another caution with 47 laps remaining.
  • Bowyer pitted and restarted 13th with 42 to go, and he quickly moved to sixth place.
  • “We really needed that thing to go green,” Bowyer told No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation crew. Bowyer had been making gains on the bottom lane late in the race.
  • He stayed on the track during the caution and moved to second when the race restarted with 31 to go.
  • Bowyer held his position the best he could through several cautions and an overtime before finishing fifth. 


  • Joey Logano won the FanShield 500k to score his milestone 25th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the season and his second at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Kevin Harvick was .276 of a second.
  • This was Ford’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix.
  • There were 12 caution periods for a total of 73 laps.
  • Twenty-seven of the 38 drivers in the FanShield 500k finished on the lead lap.
  • Harvick leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a one-point advantage over second-place Logano.
  • Bowyer’s fifth-place result was his best so far this year. His previous best was sixth in the Daytona 500.
  • Bowyer earned his first top-five and second top-10 of the season, and his third top-five and ninth top-10 in 30 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
  • This is Bowyer’s second straight top-10 at Phoenix. He finished eighth in the series’ last visit to the track in November.
  • Bowyer has only finished outside the top-15 at Phoenix once since joining SHR in 2017. 

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“As you go through this West Coast swing, you are lying in the bed you made. We saw that all the time, and it really is true. You come out here, and these cars are prepared before we get out here. Certainly we are looking forward to getting back home and re-evaluating some things. I can’t seem to figure out how to get the front end to turn. There is a new mentality with (crew chief) John (Klausmeier) and all his engineers. All in all, to grind it out on Sunday when the money is on the line, it was a good effort and some momentum going into Atlanta, a fun racetrack for me that I really enjoy. The Mobil 1 Ford is beat up a little bit as I look over your shoulder there. Hell, that is what this track is all about.”

Next Up: 

The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.