Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has capitalized on a stretch of racetracks he enjoys to have JTG Daugherty Racing on a hot stretch going into the All-Star break.
Stenhouse earned three straight top-eight finishes at Dover, Darlington and Kansas, a stretch that includes a runner-up effort at Dover and the most points earned (41) in a race for the team this season, one weekend after finishing 30th at Talladega with eight points. A total of 99 points from the last three weeks has taken Stenhouse from 31st to 25th in the standings.
The results are a combination of the No. 47 team finding what works in their race car and the racetracks visited.
“I’ve definitely liked all the racetracks we’ve been to so far in this stretch,” Stenhouse said. “But I look back at the start of the season, we were good at Fontana and ran in the top five, got a top-10 finish out of it. Vegas, we were running in the top 10 when we had an engine issue in that late-race restart that kind of killed our run there. Then we hit some short tracks where we just struggled. So, I feel like our package we’ve had at the mile-and-a-half racetracks has been really good, but we just got back to them these last three weeks, and those tracks that are high-speed, I feel like we have a good balance on our race car.
“We’re using the simulator to the best of our ability and things like that. So, all in all, I feel like we’ve hit a good run of tracks, but I like what we’re doing with our sim and our engineers and Brian Pattie (crew chief). We’re all working really well together and we haven’t had any mistakes. We’ve been super solid on pit road; we haven’t gotten in the fence to need damage repairs or bend toe links, which is obviously a big topic. We’ve done a really good job of executing races as well.”
Simulator time is new for Stenhouse and company. Stenhouse had admitted in the past that JTG Daugherty was not a priority with Chevrolet to get simulator time as one of the smaller teams, with the powerhouse organizations getting first dibs. But the manufacturer has opened a new technical center in Concord, N.C., which allows for additional simulator time for teams who haven’t customarily gotten it.
“The simulator has been super beneficial,” Stenhouse said. “We’ve used it just about every week. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s the way you use the tool and I think our team has got a pretty good system down for some of those fast racetracks where you don’t use a lot of brake, and we can dial the car in that way. And then we have an offset that we try to take to the racetrack.
“The short tracks are where we’re struggling — on the simulator, we feel like we’ve got them dialed in really good but then when we get to the track, it doesn’t correlate. We’re still looking at how to be better there.”
Stenhouse has not qualified for the postseason since 2017, when he won two races while driving for Jack Roush. Over the past three years, he’s failed to crack the top 20 in the final standings. It’s been a frustrating stint with the two-time Xfinity Series champion and former Cup Series Rookie of the Year feeling stagnant.
“I think everybody wants to do better; everybody wants to perform and make the playoffs,” Stenhouse said. “I think for us that’s a huge goal to accomplish. We’ve been in position to win races here this year already and looking forward to being in position more times throughout the summer that maybe we can click off a win and make the playoffs, jump a little higher in points. We’ve shown these last three weeks if we can keep executing and bringing solid race cars to the racetrack, those top 10s are doable. I don’t think we’re doing anything crazy, it’s just we’re consistent right now.
“It is frustrating to not be in the top 15 in points, but you look at the big teams and when you’ve got four Gibbs, four Hendrick, four Stewart-Haas, and basically four Penske, those cars right there take up a ton of spots in points — those teams have cars running for championships. So, I like what we’re doing with our team right now. This car is going to continue, I think, to let us evolve and get better because we’re working with the same car every single racetrack and hopefully year after year, and I think that’s where we’ll finally start seeing a little bit more speed and a little more consistency out of what we’re doing at JTG Daugherty Racing.
“It’s a process anytime you change anything, and I think it’s going to be an upward trend for us.”