By: Ashley McCubbin
Almost a third of the way through the season, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is showcasing time with a team makes a difference, as evident by his consistency with JTG-Daughtry Racing.
The 33rd-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway marked his first result outside of the top-20 in 2021, alongside a season-best runner-up on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. As a result, he finds himself ranked in the top-10 in the standings.
The improvements they have seen are due to one resulting factor – an attention to detail by everyone involved. Behind the wheel, Stenhouse has focused on less mistakes, being better on pit road, and not trying to overdrive the car, while the team has focused on faster stops and making the right adjustments.
“We set-up this off-season to come into 2021 and make less mistakes, be consistent, and try not to do anything spectacular and don’t do anything that is really bad. And I think that’s where our heads are at and I feel like we’re all a little bit more focused each week,” he explained. “The guys working on the car, me in the car making the decisions behind the wheel have been a lot better and probably some of the best of my career as far as the decisions I’ve made. I’m looking forward to building on that and continuing to get better.
“Also at the same time, we’re trying to make our cars faster. Our Kroger team has worked really hard in the off-season as well as making some of the race tracks, now that we have a notebook, being at the team for a year, we can look back at those races where we struggled last year and make different decisions and different set-up decisions going in that can benefit us. And I think you’re seeing some of that as well.”
Looking through the notebook, Stenhouse admits admitting road course are “not my strong suit,” but has seen constant improvement with better equipment underneath him.
Alternatively, he feels both driver and team could do better is their short track program, as evident by a 15th at Martinsville Speedway and a 17th at Richmond Raceway. On top of poor finishes, the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet was not in contention as he struggled to keep himself on the lead lap.
“We went to Martinsville and we tried a totally different set-up and we struggled. At Richmond, we got really good at the end of the race, but we didn’t start out as good as what we needed to,” he expaliend. “So, I would say short tracks are where we need to pick-up some of our stuff and work on to get some better finishes and have fast race cars.
“But all in all, I’m really happy with the consistency that we have. We’re still just working on every race track and making sure that we’re better.”
Stenhouse and company won’t get to see whether their short track program is improved until the second half of the year, with the return to Bristol Motor Speedway in August. The diversity of the schedule, though, is something he’s used to – and feels it’s one of the strong points of NASCAR.
“We go to so many different race tracks and we’ve added a couple of new ones this year,” he commented. “You could throw in concrete and dirt and asphalt, new asphalt, worn-out asphalt, smooth tracks and rough tracks. We run on all different sorts of race tracks and I think that’s what is fun about our schedule and about our sport. Every week is different. Some notes apply. You could go from one 1.5-mile to another, and your set-ups are totally different.
“I think that’s what’s cool about this sport and of NASCAR. All the tracks we go to are different and that makes drivers and teams stay on their toes to make sure that they’re ready.”