Immediately prior to the running of the 2021 Daytona 500, Ricky Stenhouse knew exactly where he wanted be during the NASCAR Cup Series this season.
“The top 15 is where we want to be,” Stenhouse told RACER.com. “That was kind of our goal that we set out with at the beginning of the year. We’ve fallen short of that at some races, but for most of the races, we’ve been right there.” And the JTG Daugherty driver has it right. 22 races into the season, Stenhouse has wheeled the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into 10 top 15 finishes. Currently 21st in points with four races left before the playoffs, Stenhouse and his teammates are still reasonably optimistic about participating in NASCAR’s post-season.
And so it is now – and after a lengthy break since the checkered flag fell on the New Hampshire race nearly three weeks back – that Stenhouse will climb back into his race car and make another run at both a playoff berth.
Q: You’ve been out of the race car for a few weeks now. Are you looking forward to The Glen and climbing back into the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet on Sunday afternoon?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Man, I am looking forward to it! Two weeks off is a nice reset. I was just telling somebody that we get weeks off here and there, but I think two weeks gives you an appreciation of, “Hey, I like being in the race car much more than not being in the race car.” For me, it’ll be good to get back in and to just get things rolling again. You know we had some good races going in there. New Hampshire was a really good race for us. We were 15th there. Our last road race at Road America was a good run for us. We were 12th in that race, and we’re looking forward to getting back on a road course this weekend. We’ve now got 14 straight weeks of grinding the season out now.
Q: You’re currently 21st in the NASCAR Cup Series point chase. You’ve placed in the top 15 in 10 of the 22 races run thus far this season. All things considered what do you think about your body of work so far in 2021?
RS: I think we’ve done a good job of trying to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, and that was to be faster than last year and be more consistent. We’ve done those things. We’ve had some issues where some races have been out of our control, and that’s just part of racing. Some races were in our control that we’ve had some bad finishes from, but I think this year overall we’re doing good, and have improved in areas that we wanted to improve in. We’re still trying to grind it out and trying to get into 17th or 18th place in points. If not, we want to get a win before the playoffs come. That would be huge for us. I’m really happy with the consistency of our race team. We always want to go out and win and perform in the top five and top 10 every week, but I think we’ve done a really good job of setting our goals and, for the most part, accomplishing them. We’ve still got areas to improve on, and we are looking to do that this last 14 races.
Q: You were runner-up at the Bristol dirt race and sixth at Nashville. You factor in other tracks such as the Circuit of The Americas and Road America, and you guys have had a mixed bag of places to run on this summer. What have you made of the schedule and circuits in 2021? Do you like the different challenges?
RS: I do, and it had been a long time since I’d been to Road America. I liked going there. We finished 12th and I though the fans were amazing. There were people everywhere. The racing was really good. Nashville, same thing, man. I had a lot of family and friends there, and we were really fast and running up at the top two for a long time and finished sixth. Races like that give our team some pep in our step. It’s like, “Hey, if we get everything right, we can go compete with these bigger race teams.”
We’re a small organization, but I feel like we accomplish a lot with it. In some of those new races on the schedule where people don’t have a big notebook and notes to look at, I think we’ve fared pretty well. I’m looking forward to go to Indy. It’ll be a new race track for us. Never made a lap there, so I’m looking forward to getting on that track, as well. Yeah, the schedule being mixed up has been fun this year.
Q: As a member of a smaller team with a smaller racing budget, I know you’ve found yourself having to overdrive your race cars at times to try and make up the difference. Frustrating?
RS: Yeah, as a race car driver, you’re always trying to figure out how you can make your car faster and to get up there and compete for wins. Like I said before, I think we did a really good job in Nashville. The guys prepared a great race car. We were fast in practice and good in qualifying and good the whole race. For me, it’s nice when the guys can give me a car like that.
And I know it’s tough. I know they’re working within their means, and we just don’t have the teammates to lean on as a big organization. Some of the manufacturer teams can lean other manufacturer teams and really work together as a big unit. I’m proud of what everybody is doing at JTG Daugherty Racing. Ryan Preece is having a better year, and I feel like we are able to use each other and bounce ideas of each team that we have. We’re going out and battling every week. Yeah, we might not be the biggest team and we might not have the most resources, but like I said, I feel like our guys accomplish a lot with what we have, and there is no reason why we can’t go up and have runs like we did at Nashville, where we are in the top five pretty much the whole race and battling some really good race cars.
Q: Just Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, Michigan and Daytona remain before the playoffs start at Darlington on September 5. Have you and the team developed any sort of plan for those races?
RS: We’re just going to try and be consistent with our finishes. We want to be around that top 15 every week. We have a couple of road races coming up and obviously we’ll have Daytona, a race track where we’ve been to victory lane, and we are putting a lot of emphasis on that race. If we can pull off a win there, that puts us in the playoffs and kind of changes your whole season a little bit. That’s our number one focus: Daytona. But we have more races before that, and we have got to be consistently in the top 15. That was kind of our goal that we set out with at the beginning of the year. We wanted to be consistently running in that area. We’ve fallen short of that at some races, but for most of the races, we’ve been right there.
Q: Any number of good things that can happen to both you and JTG Daugherty leading into Phoenix come November, huh?
RS: Oh, for sure. I think it’s easy to get down in racing. Whether it be circumstances or finishes, there are a lot of things that go into our races and I think it is easy to get down. However, I also think the number one way to kill a season is to get down. The good thing about our team is that everyone is really confident and they believe in each other, and you have to always stay positive if you want to bounce back the next weekend. Yeah, I’m really positive and I’m ready to go.