For Ricky Stenhouse Jr., focusing on the big picture means looking at Sunday’s Ambetter 301 as a milepost of where his JTG Daugherty Chevy team stands in its NASCAR Cup Series development journey.
“This is the style of racetrack that we have struggled at this year,” Stenhouse said of the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “We’ve struggled with short tracks that are a little flat and with not as much banking. We’ve spent time in the simulator last week and then yesterday as well in trying to see if we couldn’t get a different setup for New Hampshire dialed-in and get the car better. We feel a little bit better about it than some of the other short tracks we’ve tested at, but trying to take the simulator and matching it up to the racetrack is a tough thing. We’ll see how it shakes out on Saturday during practice, but I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
“We are ready to fight for it,” added Stenhouse, who’s currently 25th in the Cup Series standings. “We’re still trying to collect as much data as we can every weekend and some of that stuff doesn’t come as quick as we would like it to. When you have success on other racetracks it definitely does build up a little bit of frustration when you can’t figure it out on some of the other racetracks. You know, Loudon is a really tough place to pass and we’ll be downshifting, which we didn’t normally do before. We’ve got some work to do on the short tracks, but this will be another test and hopefully the data will point out that we got it right.
“I think we are the only single-car team left, really. We keep trying to get more information from the manufacturer, but they don’t just give that up easy. We’ll just keep working hard. Like I said, we do a lot with a little. It’s always easy to say, ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wish we had that.’ For me, it is always making sure we take what we have and continue to get better.”
Late last month, Stenhouse signed a multi-year contract extension to remain in the No. 7 JTG Daugherty Racing entry. Now in his third year with the team, Stenhouse agreed that the extension is an example of the team’s commitment to both him and the future.
“I’m real happy to be here and we’ve got a lot of good people just working hard and trying to figure out exactly what we need to continue to keep moving forward,” he said. “Everyone works together. Sometimes I get a little frustrated in the car, but I know the guys are working hard to try and give me better race cars. They want to get better as well. We’ve got each other’s back. It’s a tough battle with all of these other big teams out here, but it is pretty cool being a small team. When you can go out there and battle for top 10s and battle for wins, that’s really cool.”
“We are going in a good direction. I mean I think we have a really good process of what we need and what we are doing. It’s just trying to figure out exactly what we need on all of these different types of racetracks. Some we feel really good about, and some, we’re still scratching our heads. But yeah, I feel like everybody is in a good place and working hard together.”
Stenhouse is enthusiastic as he looks to the future with JTG Daugherty.
“For me, it is looking at just making sure that we learn as much as we can so that next year we can be strong at every racetrack. The biggest thing for us is trying to progress throughout the year. It would be awesome to get a win and put ourselves in the playoffs, but I think the biggest thing is to continue to try and improve on the racetracks that we need to improve on and making sure at the same time that we remain strong at the tracks that we are strong at. If we can do that, I think we’ll have a shot.
“Next year is the same car, the same everything. Everything that we’re going to learn this year is going to translate and correlate to next year. That’s the biggest thing. It’s looking at the long play now that I’m dialed-in here for a few more years. It is looking at the long run and making sure that in the next couple years we can try and turn ourselves into contenders. This weekend here at Loudon will allow us to see if our short track stuff got better or not. We’ll just continue to strive for better. Every week is a test, that’s for sure.”
So what would Stenhouse consider a good outcome for the team this Sunday?
“I think for us a good day will be us running inside the top 20. The last short track we ran at, we really struggled to get into the top 25 with our speed and the handling of the race car. If we can put ourselves running inside the top 20, we’ll feel like we took a step in the right direction.”