Cup preview: Stewart Haas Racing's lineup half full

Earnhardt videobombs and bunny hops behind Harvick (0:32)

Marty Smith chats with Kevin Harvick while Dale Earnhardt Jr. seizes the moment to video-bomb the interview with a bunny hop. (0:32)

The ninth installment in a series of 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team previews ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 21:


Principal owners: Gene Haas, Tony Stewart

Manufacturer: Chevrolet

Engine source: Hendrick Motorsports

Alliances: Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports

Drivers (crew chiefs): Kurt Busch (Tony Gibson), Kevin Harvick (Rodney Childers), Danica Patrick (Billy Scott), Brian Vickers/Tony Stewart (Mike Bugarweicz)

2015's top finisher: Harvick (second)

2015 Grade: B

Ownership stability: A

Sponsorship stability: B-minus

Driver/crew chief quality: B

2016 team grade: B-plus

Outlook: SHR was much the same even before it was announced that Stewart would have to miss the start of the 2016 season because of a broken back. The outlook is that Busch and Harvick should not have any problems winning at least one race and making the Chase, while Stewart and Patrick would need significant improvement to make it to the postseason. Stewart's chances, even if he gets a waiver, would be tough, considering he is coming off such an awful season. Both Stewart and Patrick have new crew chiefs to try to improve their teams, although the appointment of Bugarweicz was a look to the future -- he will crew chief for Clint Bowyer when Bowyer replaces Stewart in 2017.


Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/Busch/Outback Steakhouse/Hunt Brothers/Ditech Chevrolet): With three wins and 13 second-place finishes in 2015, Harvick did just about everything he could do but repeat as champion. There is no reason, except for the fact that it's hard to stay on top year after year after year, to think this team, guided by Rodney Childers, will have anything less than a stellar year. He led the series in top-5s (23) and tied for the most top-10s (28). His 2,294 laps led -- 22 percent of all laps run -- was as magnificent as it was incredible. "I'm fortunate to be in a good position," Harvick said. "The last two years have gone really well. ... If we're on, we'll hopefully capitalize on that. And if we're off, I feel like we have a strong enough group to gather it up as quick as possible and point it in the right direction. For me, the confidence is very high." Harvick will have one major change to his team; he lost his engineer -- Bugarweicz -- to be crew chief for Stewart.

2016 goal: Win three races and make it to the championship round at Homestead.

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Monster/Haas Automation/State Water Heaters Chevrolet): Busch had two wins and 21 top-10s, but his 10 top-5s demonstrate that his team was a tick off at times last year. It won't take much to get it back, and he has great chemistry with his team. That was evident last year after he missed the first three races because of suspension but stepped right into the seat and performed well. So why don't they run as well as Harvick? That might not be a fair question -- no driver ran as well from Harvick start to finish last year. "It's all done with more detail and getting the best of everybody and working together with the same group of guys, I couldn't ask for more," Busch said.

2016 goal: Win three races and make it to the championship round at Homestead.

Danica Patrick (No. 10 Nature's Bakery/TaxAct/Aspen Dental Chevrolet): Patrick "enjoyed" her best season as she finished 24th in the standings. Entering her fourth year as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, she needs to challenge more in the top-20 range. That might not happen right away just because she has a new crew chief -- Billy Scott has come from Michael Waltrip Racing to guide Patrick. She hasn't shown signs of being a true superstar in the sport as some might have hoped, but if she can get to the level of Paul Menard -- 15th in the standings, makes the Chase with consistently decent finishes -- it would go a long way as far as getting the respect she deserves for her ride. Not that it matters to her. Patrick's IndyCar career and gender-setting standards (first woman ever to win a pole in Sprint Cup, six top-10s the most of any woman in Sprint Cup), as well as her fame, have given her the ability to attract enough sponsorship to race. "I'd like to just get back to where I was in 2014 before Tony Gibson left. We were solid in the top 15 all the time and good practices and qualified pretty decent," Patrick said. "We were just very competitive."

2016 goal: Finish in the top 20 in points with nine top-10 finishes.

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops/Rush Truck Centers/Code 3 Associates Chevrolet): Stewart is expected to miss at least 2-3 months because of a broken back suffered in an accident in the California dunes. No one will expect too much out of Stewart following the injury as he finishes out his Sprint Cup career. In January, he said he just wanted to show improvement over the awful 2015, in which he finished 28th in the standings. He can still do that when he returns.

2016 goal: Win a race and leave Sprint Cup with a smile.

Brian Vickers (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet): Vickers will be one of the replacement drivers for Stewart, with Ty Dillon likely also doing some races. Vickers hopes to make a comeback as he races for the first time since last March after the recurrence of blood clots. A full-time ride for Vickers is likely out of the question because sponsors will be wary; he has had to step out of the car four times since 2010 because of the clots or surgeries related to them. "If you asked me six months ago what my racing career looked like, I had no idea," Vickers said. "What I wasn't going to do was get in something that I didn't feel like when I walked in the gate that I could win in. What I did tell myself I was going to do was I was going to race again one day. ... I love racing. I love being in the car. I love going fast."

2016 goal: Win a race and give people confidence he can still get the job done.