Nearly two months after winning the biggest race of the year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says things have calmed down enough for the JTG Daugherty team to focus on racing.
“We definitely were super busy there for a while, but I feel like things are back to normal,” Stenhouse of everything that’s followed his Daytona 500 win. “It’s been really fun and really enjoyable. For us, we’re finally able to sit down and focus week to week on what we need to do at each racetrack, what we need to do going forward at racetracks ahead, and just learn as much as we can.
“I feel really good about a lot of the racetracks we’ve been to and our speed. Obviously, not every racetrack we’ve got the finish out of it that I feel like speed-wise we’ve had, so that’s a bummer at some points.”
Stenhouse’s third career win in the NASCAR Cup Series was the second for JTG Daugherty Racing, but winning the Daytona 500 was a first for all parties involved.
Since then, he’s been pleased with the speed in his No. 47 Chevrolet. The results have been up and down, though. A seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Circuit of The Americas was his first top-10 finish since the season-opening race.
Last weekend, Stenhouse got off to a fast start at Richmond Raceway using impressive speed in the outside lane before a mechanical issue forced him to the garage. He was running fifth at the competition caution before coming to pit road — where the day began going downhill. He finished 35th, his worst finish of the season and his first finish outside the top 25.
“We had a really good car at Richmond last week,” Stenhouse said. “Obviously we had an issue on our pit stop that knocked the brakes off of it, so that was a kind of a freak accident. But we got it fixed and went back out there and felt like we had a top-12 car.
“So stuff like that gives us a lot of confidence moving forward, especially since that was a short track, and we struggled at short tracks last year. I think things like that are definitely encouraging for us, so I feel like that’s what we’ve been able to focus on now that it’s slowed down a little bit.”
Stenhouse has an average finish of 16.4 entering the Bristol dirt race (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox). The event is an opportunity race for the No. 47 team, the Mississippi driver not unfamiliar with dirt racing success.
Although the focus is back forward, that doesn’t mean Stenhouse and the JTG Daugherty organization haven’t gotten a lot of use out of their Daytona victory. Jodi Geschickter made it known it was a much-needed victory for the David of the NASCAR garage, and its loyal sponsors, up against the Goliath of the larger teams. In the days after the win, Stenhouse went on a victory tour, giving numerous interviews and exposure for the team owners.
“So far, it’s been a pretty cool year,” Stenhouse said.
It’s also a year that was completely shifted after Daytona. Stenhouse is looking at a potential playoff berth as JTG Daugherty capitalizes on the benefits of winning a prestigious event. It’s given the driver a chance to approach his job differently and perhaps from a little better perspective.
“I think the biggest thing is confidence,” Stenhouse said of what Daytona has done for the organization. “When you have a win, you show up to the racetrack with a little more pep in your step. Then the speed that we’ve had — I feel like I’ve been able to be a little bit more relaxed and probably get better finishes out of the car, sometimes, than what’s there, (compared to) what I would have done last year because we do have a win, and I’m a little more relaxed through the center potions of the race; even the beginning of the race when things aren’t going exactly as planned…
“So, it’s let me relax a little bit. On the team side of it, marketing (and other departments have) been quite a bit different. It’s really been good for us. It’s been really neat and special to see, and yeah, the confidence in the team has been super high.”