CONCORD, N.C. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. snapped a skid of rough races for his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team with a fourth-place run Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
While even one good race is a positive, Stenhouse believes that result could be just the beginning of his team’s good fortune in the NASCAR Cup Series.
The year started off looking like it would be strong from the get-go for Stenhouse and company, as he rocketed to the pole for the Daytona 500 back in February and followed that up with a third-place finish at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway the next week.
All appeared to be looking up at that point. Then came the choppy seas, however.
What followed were no finishes better than 20th, as well as a two-month break in competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among the hardships was Stenhouse’s well-publicized crash coming off the second corner on the first lap at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in NASCAR’s return to racing on May 17.
He skidded from fifth in points to outside the top 20 and appeared to be at risk of even having a shot at the playoffs, let alone being able to contend on a week-to-week basis.
But Thursday night’s 500-kilometer sprint showed signs that all was not lost for the Olive Branch, Miss., native. Though he started 24th due to his finish from the Coca-Cola 600, Stenhouse drove his way into the top-six by the end of the first stage and managed to stay there for most of the night after that.
He showed speed down the stretch run of the race and was running among some of the fastest lap times in the waning moments of the event, finishing behind only Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.
It marked the first time in the history of JTG’s No. 47 team that it has finished in the top five in two intermediate-track races in the same season, and was the culmination of a race where Stenhouse noted “everything went right” for his squad.
“For us, it was just really good to just have a smooth race with really no issues,” said Stenhouse. “Obviously, the first race back at Darlington, I kind of ruined our day early. Then, the second Darlington, we had some issues that we couldn’t fix while we were in the race. Charlotte, the Coca-Cola 600, the first run, we ran up to tenth. I felt really good about it. After we came to the pits, we had some issues again that we had to get over and just didn’t really have the speed after that first run. We felt like what we had in the car was really good and I liked the way it drove at the beginning of the 600.
“So, we just kind of worked on that and made sure that we limited all of our mistakes and got all of our issues figured out. Brian (Pattie, crew chief) and the boys did an awesome job with that. From the drop of the green flag, I felt really good about how our Kroger Camaro ran. For us, it was just huge to get a good run in and pass a lot of really good cars. We ran decent at Vegas and got a good finish on pit strategy. But last night, it was just nice to be able to run up front, pass a lot of really good cars and actually catch the leaders there at a few points towards the end of the race.
“All in all, I feel like it was a great night for us and I’m really looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum, showing what we are capable of and being able to do that more and more often.”
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