The NASCAR Cup Series drivers are at Richmond Raceway for the ninth race of the season. Martin Truex Jr. is understandably the center of attention due to his recent streak of success at the short track, but he is not the only driver making waves. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the wheelman of the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet Camaro, is in the playoff mix after a run of top-20 finishes.
The 33-year-old started his season off with 18th-place finishes in the Daytona 500 and the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. He continued to improve with each outing, posting four more finishes in the top-15. Stenhouse then finished the Bristol dirt race in second place, just behind Team Penske’s Joey Logano. His most recent outing at Martinsville Speedway was a 15th-place finish.
Stenhouse has only cracked the top-10 once so far, but his consistency has led to 202 total points. He currently enters the Toyota Owners 400 in 13th place in the standings, just above the cutoff line. 16 drivers reach the playoffs, and Stenhouse has an opportunity to join this group.
Stenhouse is in his second season with JTG-Daugherty Racing
The 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Stenhouse spent the first seven seasons of his full-time Cup Series career with Roush Fenway Racing. He drove the No. 17 Ford and posted 15 top-five finishes. Stenhouse’s best season was 2017 when he secured his first win at Talladega Superspeedway and then followed it up with a win at Daytona International Speedway.
Stenhouse’s time with Roush Fenway came to an end after the 2019 season. The team announced that up-and-comer Chris Buescher would replace him in the No. 17 Ford. This news caught many by surprise considering that Stenhouse had signed a contract extension with the team, seemingly keeping him on the roster through 2021. Team owner Jack Roush explained at the time that crashes played a role in his decision to part ways with Stenhouse.
“I look forward to having cars that are more similar for both drivers that we can develop from race to race by not having so many wrecks,” Roush said in 2019, per NBC Sports. “Ryan’s [Newman] done really well about keeping his car together, and Chris has a history of doing the same thing.
“So we’re going to work on our cars to make them faster and to not be repairing them when they’re damaged. We’re gonna work on a consistent car that they both like, and I think we’ll have much better success.”
Stenhouse’s first season with JTG-Daugherty featured multiple crashes
When Roush parted ways with Stenhouse, the driver responded by acknowledging the number of incidents involving his stock car. Although his first season with his new team also featured on-track incidents. Stenhouse did not finish eight of the 36 races in 2020, and he crashed in six. He still posted three more top-five finishes, including a season-best second-place at Talladega.
The 2021 season is only eight races deep, but Stenhouse has kept his car clean to start the year. He has avoided several incidents that claimed other vehicles and continued moving toward the front of the pack. The result is eight consecutive top-20 finishes and 202 points.
Stenhouse is not a lock to make the playoffs in his second season with JTG Daugherty Racing. However, he is putting himself in the best position each week with strong performances on the track. If he continues this pace, he will potentially have an opportunity to take part in the first stage of the playoffs. Although he will likely have to win a race to lock up his spot.