Almirola gets Blickensderfer back as crew chief, details on competition changes at SHR

Stewart-Haas Racing had a down year in 2021. It’s no secret. They would have loved to be contenders but in all reality, they were second fiddle to the top teams in the sport. Just one win came via their four car NASCAR Cup Series lineup as that was from Aric Almirola in New Hampshire last July.

Now, with a new car coming for this year and a gap that they’re actively trying to close back up to the top, they formed a new position in “performance director.” That role will be filled by Mike Bugarewicz. The team is hoping to bolster their competition leadership by this role and a promotion from inside is the path they chose to take.

Bugarewicz, is an eight-year SHR veteran who has spent the past six seasons as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief, most recently with driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 team. Bugarewicz has won with every driver he has been paired with, including SHR co-owner Tony Stewart. His promotion to performance director merges Bugarewicz’s hands-on experience as a crew chief with his engineering mindset, as the 39-year-old from Lehighton, Pennsylvania, holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State University.

“With the NextGen car being brand new, there will be continuous development on it every time it turns a wheel. Going into it, we knew we needed to shore up our resources and really bolster our competitive approach. Buga is the right guy to tackle all the newness that’s coming at us pretty fast,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition, SHR. “He’s an engineer and he’s also a racer. He will be that glue between simulation, at-track reality, engineering and our race teams, and his laser-like focus in this new role of performance director will be a huge asset to our team.”

With the promotion, that leaves the top of the pit box on Aric Almirola’s car open. In turn, Drew Blickensderfer moves over from Front Row Motorsports to take over as Almirola’s crew chief again.

Last month, Front Row Motorsports announced the immediate departure of Blickensderfer who led Michael McDowell to a Daytona 500 triumph last February. With a move that late, we knew it had to do with Blickensderfer finding something bigger.

This was it. It all makes sense now.

Blickensderfer, is a NASCAR veteran who already has a history with Almirola. He served as his crew chief while together at Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) for the last few races of 2016 and then all of 2017 before Almirola departed RPM for SHR in 2018. Blickensderfer comes to SHR from Front Row Motorsports where the 45-year-old from Decatur, Illinois, won the 2021 Daytona 500 with driver Michael McDowell. It was Blickensderfer’s fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory as a crew chief. He previously guided David Ragan to a win and Matt Kenseth to two victories.

“Drew has been in the sport a long time and knows how to get the best out of the people around him, and that’s really what the job of crew chief has become,” Zipadelli said. “We have the same parts and pieces, but what we do with those parts and pieces will make the difference. Drew has worked with a lot of drivers and managed a lot of people. He already has a rapport with Aric, and that will make the learning curve in a season full of learning a little less steep.”

The rest of SHR’s crew chief lineup remains intact across both its NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams.

Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 4 team, will begin his ninth year atop the pit box for driver Kevin Harvick. The Harvick/Childers duo is the longest-tenured active driver-crew chief pairing in the NASCAR Cup Series garage, a partnership that has netted 35 points-paying wins and the 2014 championship.

John Klausmeier remains the crew chief for the No. 14 team and driver Chase Briscoe. Klausmeier helped Briscoe secure the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series rookie-of-the-year title. The 2022 season will mark Klausmeier’s fifth season as a crew chief.

Similarly, Mike Shiplett remains the crew chief for the No. 41 team and driver Cole Custer. The 2022 season will be the fourth straight year Custer and Shiplett have been paired together. The duo first joined in the Xfinity Series in 2019 where Shiplett oversaw a seven-win season and a runner-up finish in the championship standings. Custer and Shiplett moved to Cup as one in 2020, with Custer handily securing the rookie-of-the-year award via his win at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.

Richard Boswell has been the main steward of SHR’s Xfinity Series program since its inception in 2017 and he will continue in that capacity in 2022. He will again serve as crew chief for driver Riley Herbst and the No. 98 team. Boswell has been the crew chief for nine of SHR’s 21 Xfinity Series wins.

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