Stewart-Haas Racing were the team to watch throughout the latter half of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season due to the fact that only one of their four drivers had been confirmed for the 2020 season.
This was particularly notable because of the fact that they hadnât kept the same driver lineup from one year to the next since between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Kevin Harvick had been slated to return to the #4 Ford in the Cup Series all along. Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer both ended up signing one-year contract extensions to remain with the team behind the wheels of the #10 Ford and #14 Ford, respectively.
Cole Custer, meanwhile, was named the replacement for Daniel Suarez behind the wheel of the #41 Ford, keeping the teamâs year-to-year lineup-altering trend alive.
Custer spent the last three seasons competing for the team in the Xfinity Series, and after entering the 2019 season with two victories, he had a breakout year and won seven races.
Additionally, Stewart-Haas Racing will be affiliated with another car in the 2020 season as opposed to their usual four, as they formed a technical alliance with Go Fas Racing. Corey LaJoie is slated to return to the team for a second season behind the wheel of the #32 Ford next year.
Most recently, Frontstretch recently reported that Chase Briscoe is set to return for a second season at Stewart-Haas Racingâs Xfinity Series team next year following the departure of Custer However, Briscoeâs car number for the 2020 season has not yet been confirmed.
He drove the #98 Ford in 2019 season alongside Custer behind the wheel of the #00 Ford. Notably, Stewart-Haas Racing will only field one car, not two, in the 2020 season.
So what is next for the Gene Haas and Tony Stewart-owned operation?
As far as the 2020 season is concerned, the dust appears to have settled. But these recent confirmations are simply the calm before the storm.
Obviously, the team have not yet confirmed Briscoe for a second Xfinity Series season in 2020, but that confirmation is expected before Christmas. So technically, that is âwhatâs nextâ.
But what comes after that?
Aside of the obvious focus being on winning the Cup and Xfinity Series championships next year, the focus will shift to Silly Season and the teamâs 2021 driver lineup. Harvick is already believed to be under contract through at least 2021, while Custer is seen as a long-term driver for the team.
As for the other two seats, itâs anybodyâs guess. The fact that Almirola and Bowyer both only signed one-year deals to continue driving for the team in 2020 means that, once again, they will be the subject of much Silly Season speculation.
Combined, they won one race from 2013 to 2017 (Almirola at Daytona International Speedway in July of 2014, then driving for Richard Petty Motorsports). They then won three races in 2018, which was Almirolaâs first season at Stewart-Haas Racing and Bowyerâs second.
But after they both advanced to the round of 8 of the 2018 playoffs, they went winless again in 2019. Almirola was eliminated following the round of 16 while Bowyer was eliminated following the round of 12.
If they canât step it up in 2020, Stewart-Haas Racingâs year-to-year lineup-altering trend may continue for a fifth consecutive season. By modern-day NASCAR standards, neither driver is young, either; both have been around for several seasons. Bowyer is 40 and Almirola is 35.
Given Stewart-Haas Racingâs connections outside of their four-car Cup Series team, they are more than capable of making yet another change.
Will Briscoe move up from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series like Custer did? He is already 25 years old, so it wouldnât be like promoting a teenager, and he has had success in limited time in both the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. How about LaJoie? Will he effectively be promoted to the four-car Ford team after two years at Go Fas Racing?
There is also the seemingly obligatory rumor that Kyle Larson, whose contract with Chip Ganassi Racing is up after 2020, will join the team after Stewart wanted him behind the wheel of the #14 Ford for the 2017 season. Unfortunately for them, Larson was unable to sign a contract with another team at that time, per the specifics of his contract with Chip Ganassiâs team.
Notably, despite having altered their driver lineup from year to year after each of the last four seasons, Stewart-Haas Racing have always retained three of their four drivers from one season to the next.
So on paper, the odds that both Almirola and Bowyer are out of a ride after 2020 donât appear all that great. At the same time, the odds that one of them will be out are fairly high.
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Nevertheless, Stewart-Haas Racingâs next move is anybodyâs guess, and it will certainly be something to keep an eye on throughout the 2020 NASCAR season.