JTG Daugherty Racing is looking vastly improved right now. While their positioning in the points standings could be a bit better, the speed is showing in their two race cars.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. replaced Chris Buescher with the team while he basically shifts in the No. 47 Chevrolet and Ryan Preece moves over to the No. 37 Chevrolet as a result. Between AJ Allmendinger, Buescher and Preece, they combined to score just seven top five finishes between 2015 and 2019. Through 15 races run this season, Stenhouse by himself already has three top fives alone.
A year ago, Buescher and Preece had one top five between them and seven top 10’s. They led 14 total laps.
This year, Stenhouse has a Daytona 500 pole to go along with three top fives and three top 10’s already with 66 laps led.
“I think we’re a little ahead of last year,” said co-owner Brad Daugherty. “We felt like the last 2 years, we build our own race cars and have some really smart people working really hard. We thought last year, we had race cars that were really good, really, really good. For us, being a midsize smaller team, when you go out and go toe to toe with these big guys, you go in the top 15 you’re having a good day. When you get in the top 10, you’re having a great day.”
Daugherty noted that their past struggles have always been on 1.5-mile tracks. These circuits are NASCAR’s bread-and-butter right now and ones that are difficult for smaller teams like theirs to compete up front on.
“What we’ve seen, the struggles have been when you go to the 1.5-mile’s and everybody has a lot of redundancy with simulation,” Daugherty continued. “It’s tough for us because we get out engineered a lot of times at the big race tracks.”
But, what is pleasantly surprising them is that this year, they’ve been up front on the mix on these tracks. Two of Stenhouse Jr’s three top five finishes have come on 1.5-mile tracks in fact. He was third in the second race of the year in Las Vegas and fourth in the second Charlotte race in May.
“This year, we’ve seen our race cars compete and be in the mix on the 1.5-mile’s,” said Daugherty. “We had great race cars at Bristol, felt like we could run in the top five and finish in the top five at Bristol. Even at Talladega. When you go to Talledega, those Hendrick engines and Hendrick horsepower is stout. The car was slick and fast. Had enough downforce for stability and Ricky could really maneuver the car.”
Now, the their only potential problem is, tempering Stenhouse Jr’s aggression. He admitted last month that he has to do a better job of that. In the past, he’d press too hard instead of letting the car come to him. Now that he may not necessarily have race winning cars but maybe a Top 5 to Top 10 car, he just needs to maximize those days.
“We’re excited,” Daugherty said of the future. “We think we can win a race or two with Ricky. We’re putting a lot of pressure with him to do so. We think he’s capable in our stuff.
“We think we have an opportunity. Hopefully we can get to the playoffs this year. We’re going to work really hard. We know with Ricky, we got the aggressiveness we need on restarts. There’s going to be some trials and tribulations with that but we can live with that.
“I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10,” Stenhouse said. “I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.
“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.”
Daugherty, also likes the way Ryan Preece is progressing. In his second year, Preece is still learning and JTG is a perfect place for him to hone his skills.
“With Ryan (Preece), he’s still learning,” Daugherty said of his second year driver. “He’s improving tremendously. He comes out of a modified sport where you drive off that big right rear tire and it’s taken him a while to get used to these Cup cars. He’s had success in the Xfinity Series so we know he can be successful even though we know the cars are different.
“We’re excited. With young Ryan and he continues to evolve, as we get to the second half of the year where things get really tough, but he’s getting the educational laps in so to speak, we think he can challenge.”
Stenhouse, has some good opportunities ahead of him to find that win and hopefully push JTG to a playoff berth.