Cover photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ the Tires
(Las Vegas, NV) March 7, 2021 — What started as a great day for Stewart-Haas Racing with Kevin Harvick on pole ended in all four NASCAR Cup Series drivers knocked off the lead lap in the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick was battling Truex for the lead early in Stage 1. He later fought for position on a restart in Stage 1 when contact began to cut a tire for his No. 4 Ford Mustang. A timely debris caution aided his Mobil 1 car as he limped to pit road, but his visit to pit road for fresh tires lost him track position that he ultimately could not regain.
Cole Custer’s team just seemed to miss the mark and couldn’t get his HaasTooling.com Mustang into the top-15 solidly. He did earn a free-pass on the final caution involving his teammate on Lap 180. However, his ill-handling machine couldn’t keep a strong enough pace to stay on the lead lap, and fell to eventual race-winner Kyle Larson.
“That was not the day we were looking for,” Custer shared after the checkered flag waved. “It was a struggle all day to find rear grip, and we couldn’t attack the corners the way we wanted to on entry and exit. We’ll do everything we can to improve our performance for the next one.”
Chase Briscoe’s struggles started early but did have one positive at the end of the day. After starting 24th, he was the only one from the SHR garage to gain positions, finishing 21st. His uphill battle started with a pit road violation on Lap 48, and it appeared to be a long day for the rookie driver.
“It felt like every race so far I’ve learned a ton just throughout the race,” said Briscoe. “Obviously I wish I could start the race kind of where I end, knowing what I need from a speed standpoint. I feel like I learned a lot today, and hopefully when we come back here it’ll help. It’s just hard with no practice to show up and go, but I feel like we made gains on it, and right now I feel that’s the most important thing.”
The one driver that looked to have promise for a top-10 finish ended in the garage and a last-place result for Aric Almirola. His No. 10 Smithfield Power Bites Mustang lost a left-front tire, and crashed into the outside wall in Turn 1. In the previous turn, he felt a tire going down and avoided contact with Corey Lajoie. Too much damage to the wheel and inside the car prevented him from returning to finish the race. He was quickly evaluated and released from the infield care center.
The bad luck continued for Stewart-Haas in post-race inspection. Harvick was caught with one loose lug nut, resulting in a monetary fine. Custer’s team had two lose lug nuts at the conclusion of the race and Mike Shiplett, crew chief of the No. 41 car, is now expected to miss one race. No official announcement on these penalties from NASCAR has yet been stated, but is anticipated per the rule book.
“We have a lot of season left,” said an optimistic Custer.
Harvick now sits seventh in points, the only SHR driver in the top-15. They continue their west coast swing next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.