Lately, the focus for Ricky Stenhouse and the JTG Daugherty Racing team has been consistency.
“We knew when you’re trying to make the playoffs that during the regular season and those first 26 races, you need to average a 14th place finish,” explained the 11th-year NASCAR Cup Series driver a few days out from this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
A 19.3 finishing position thus far in the season leaves Stenhouse 22nd in Cup Series points heading into this weekend, but he and the team are looking to finish 2021 with a surge, and then go into the off-season with a spring in their step.
Q: You guys at JTG Daugherty Racing have been concentrating on elevating your program on intermediate tracks, haven’t you?
RICKY STENHOUSE: Yeah, we have and I’m definitely looking forward to racing at Kansas. We had a bummer weekend in Texas. I felt like our car was really good, it was just early in the race there was that big wreck off of Turn 2 and we just got caught up in it. I was really happy with how my car drove and with the speed that I felt like it had.
We did have some things different on that car setup-wise that we are going to take with us to Kansas this weekend that I feel will be beneficial for us. Kansas has always been a good mile-and-a-half racetrack for me. We struggled there earlier this year (ED: Stenhouse placed 34th in the first Kansas race of 2021), so we are looking forward to trying something different going into that race this weekend. We should do well after showing some promise from this past weekend at Texas.
Q: You’ve talked about wanting to finish off the 2021 season with a strong run of consistency. And to that end, the last 10 races you’ve completed have basically mirrored what you and the team have achieved in ’21. How do you feel about the consistency you and the team have displayed?
RS: Yeah, I think this whole season we’ve just been more consistent than what we were the year prior, and that was number one on our list of goals. Our goal has been to just be more consistent and to give ourselves better chances and better finishes, and I feel like we’ve done that so far. Looking at it, we’ve kind of had a rough month. We’ve been consistent fortunately, but nothing close to the top 10. That’s been a struggle. We haven’t really had major issues, but we just haven’t been as fast over the last month as we would liked to have been. I felt like Texas was that turnaround race as far as I felt like we had good speed, and I felt like our car drove good. So I’m looking forward to Kansas and then Martinsville and Phoenix, as well.
Q: What type of results from Kansas, Martinsville and Phoenix would send you into the off-season with a smile on your face?
RS: A win would just be huge, but I think for us, a top 12 finish at Kansas would be good. Martinsville is one of my worst racetracks – by far. If we could get a top 17 finish there and then go to Phoenix and get another top 15, I feel like that would be a good way for us to end the season, and I definitely feel like we are capable of doing that, if not more. I think those would be good results heading into the off-season.
Q: It was recently announced that you’ll be returning to the JTG Daugherty fold for 2022. You’ll have the new Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro to sort out and JTG Daugherty is now down to a one car team. Being a smaller team, do you believe these two new variables will allow both you and the team to increase focus?
RS: I do. It’s never fun when you have to downsize or take a car away, but with the charter system and the way that it is, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to run a car without a charter. So we don’t have a charter for the No. 37 and our ownership group was like, “Hey, we’re going to run it and see how it shakes out. If it shakes out well, then maybe we can do it again.” Financially, it didn’t make sense to continue to run two cars with just one charter.
Switching to that new car, we’ve done a couple of tests now and I felt really good about that. The car is really quirky and there’s a lot to learn from the crew guys’ standpoint, and then from the driver’s standpoint, as well. Having one team and one car and kind of building a notebook and setups around one person and one team could be really beneficial for us, and all of our focus will be on our one car. I’m looking forward to that. I get to do every single test that we have, which I think is going to be important, as well. There are a lot if drivers that have only been able to make a couple laps because they’ve had to share the car with their other teammates. That’s something that were not going to have to do.
Q: And as you spoke about, every driver and every team has a clean sheet of paper before them with this new Next Gen car, huh?
RS: They do. I think we’re going to be working a little closer with Chevrolet, which will be good. We’ll be able to get more information and use the simulator a little bit more, and just try and advance our program at a really, really important and good time. Like you said, when you come in with a brand new car, everybody is learning. We’re just getting these things at the sane time and trying to put them all together. We go to these tests, and we are a one-car team and we are trying to learn everything we can with one car, but we have a lot of good people that are putting in a lot of work on that front, and I think that can be a good thing.
Q: In recent interviews you’ve spoken about 2022 having the potential to be your best Cup season ever…
S: I do have a really good feeling. As far as consistency in my Cup career, this is one of my better years as far as just trying to be consistent and trying to keep that average finish down. Yeah, we don’t have the wins to go with it like we did in 2017, but overall I feel like we’ve been pretty decent. Like I said, there are still things to clean up and still things to work on, but if we can continue to take what we learned this year and go into the off-season and continue to clean those things up and keep getting better, it could all come together with us having that new car next year. I’m excited.
For me, it’s just something totally different. I don’t feel like we are coming from too far behind. We’ve had these same cars for a long time. The bigger teams got their lead and have their resources and have kind of figured everything out, and everyone else is trying to play catch up. I think this is a great opportunity for teams like ourselves to try and close that gap.
Q: With only three races left to run in 2021, how are you looking at the off-season?
RS: Well, we’ve got tests coming up, which will be good. I want to spend some time with the team in the shop. Now that we can kind of hang out a little bit more after all the rounds of COVID, just being able to go in the shop and to be around the guys more will really be good. We’ve been working at trying to get ahead of where we need to be. I’m already working on my seats and helmets and suits and everything for next year, so that we can knock stuff out and not feel like we’re trashed and trying to get stuff done last minute. We have Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, and we’ll plan on having family over at the house and not really traveling a whole lot. I can just worry about hanging out at the shop.