It might be an uphill battle for NASCAR’s smaller teams to compete with the huge multi-car organizations, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the line for them. The battle for bragging rights among the smaller organizations is fierce. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was a player in that battle last year, and after downsizing to better utilize its limited resources, JTG Daugherty Racing is ready to improve on its performance in 2022.
By his own career standard, 2021 was a poor year for Stenhouse, who posted just one top-5 and two top-10 finishes on the season. But he still managed to finish 22nd in driver points, and he bested some better-funded drivers in the process, so it was hardly a total loss.
JTG Daugherty Racing raced two Cup cars full-time last year, but with just one charter, it made the decision to drop to one team and put the focus, and the money, behind Stenhouse’s effort.
The 34-year-old Mississippi native has a couple of Cup wins to his credit, and his lack of top 10s in 2021 is deceptive — he had several strong finishes that fell just short of that mark, and he was inside the top 20 in points on and off for a total of 24 weeks. That’s impressive for an underfunded team.
The team gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports, so they have excellent power and durability. Backing from Kroger and its partner companies will fund the majority of races, and that provides yet another level of stability, one that not all of the smaller teams enjoy.
Stability means the team can focus on setting up the cars and not have to worry about power or about who’s paying the bills, and with the new racecar in play, it’s an opportunity for Stenhouse to take full advantage.
Crew chief Brian Pattie returns to the pit box for his sixth straight season with Stenhouse, a tenure that spans two different teams. With 20-plus years of experience and wins across all three NASCAR national series, Pattie brings good balance to the team. Without a teammate to rely on for information, it’s critical Stenhouse and Pattie maintain their strong relationship and communication.
Stenhouse’s strength as a driver also happens to be his Achilles heel: He’s ultra-aggressive, and he strives to take every position he can get to. If there’s an opening, Stenhouse will try to put his car in it, and when that works out, it can mean a couple of extra spots in a race.
When it doesn’t work out, though, it can go south in a hurry. Stenhouse averages five or six DNFs each year, and a good number are due to crashes; he doesn’t have many friends on the track. He’s earned a reputation among both fans and competitors for sometimes racing over his head, and while the reputation exaggerates the truth, his aggression isn’t going away anytime soon.
Can Stenhouse be more than a mid-pack driver? Yes. He and the team probably aren’t going to earn a Playoff spot on points, but a win isn’t completely out of the realm of imagination — he’s a strong superspeedway racer, and if he can avoid trouble, he’s a dark horse at either Daytona or Talladega.
Avoiding trouble is the key for this driver, and when he does, he’s capable of some very good races.