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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. returns his fortune in 2022 via recent top 10 streak

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  returns his fortune in 2022 via recent top 10 streak

As the month of May began, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s season was over. in 2022 dominated by two and a half months of missed opportunities, frustration and poor results. But in three weeks, the story has suddenly taken a dramatic turn in the other direction.

In the first 10 races of the season, Stenhouse had just one top 10 finish before going through a string of eight consecutive finishes outside the top 20, seven of which were 27th or worse. Then came Dover, where he came out late in the race and finished second. And then came a couple of eighth places in Darlington and Kansas.

Suddenly, Stenhouse and his race team have three consecutive top 10 finishes to speak of and four overall on the season. That’s double what they had in all of 2021, as much as they had in all of 2020, and a huge turnaround of fortune for driver and team who already felt capable of changing their season.

“We’ve done several things to make our cars better, and I think a little bit of performance has come out of that,” Stenhouse told CBS Sports. “We’ve had fast race cars, I would say, every race but three races. The final result, of course, is what really matters. … We focused on ‘Hey, we’ve got fast race cars on these tracks, let’s make sure if we go there, let’s get those finishes out.’

“And some of it we’ve had out of our control, others have been in our control. Everyone has done their part to get to the finish that we’ve had over the past few weeks. We didn’t make mistakes on the pit road, I didn’t make any mistakes on the pit lane, I didn’t get into the gate and needed body repair – All those things add up. And then of course to have a fast race car with good set-up and good balance.”

Although it took almost halfway through the season for them to achieve the desired finish, the signs that Stenhouse and JTG Daugherty Racing could compete were there from the start of the year. Stenhouse led 16 laps in the Daytona 500 and was in position to win with six laps to go but crashed. At Atlanta, Stenhouse led 22 laps and was leading halfway through the race when he blew a tire and crashed.

Until now, those runs have been what Stenhouse’s team had hung their hats on. And the runs they have now are what they’ve been working toward not just this year, but the past three since Stenhouse and crew chief Brian Pattie were paired up in early 2020.

While they’ve had their moments – most notably winning pole for the 2020 Daytona 500 – JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 hasn’t had the smoothest team-building transition, be it due to COVID or the company as a whole downsizing from two cars to just one. Fortunately, the team is now in their third season with Stenhouse, Pattie and Mike Kelley — the Aerodynamics team principal and Stenhouse’s crew chief for both of his Xfinity Series championships.

“I feel like everyone has a little bit of their part in JTG now and everything is more normal,” said Stenhouse. “Brian Pattie has the team guys where we want it, I feel like we have really good guys who are ready to work hard and put the work in. And then you have Mike Kelley helping our aero department and CFD a little bit work and make sure we don’t miss out in that area.The store flow is just going really well now and everyone works great together.

“I feel like everyone has found their place and we’re all happy with the results it brings. We have a good system with these new cars to put them together, kind of a process of all that in the store. They were very different, but I think we’re in a good place.”

In the context of 2022, the place where Stenhouse is located couldn’t be better compared to what it was just three weeks ago. His recent hot streak has lifted him to 25th in the Cup Series standings, and he is now just 95 points behind Aric Almirola for last place in the playoffs on points.

The problem is that so many different drivers have won that playoff spots available on points for drivers like Stenhouse are already dwindling, meaning the number 47 team will probably need to win to get a place in the round of 16. to earn. And as the 2022 season continues to bring new and unexpected winners, the scenario of what will happen if 16 or more drivers win a race — and the lack of safety offered by drivers who have already won — should be seriously entertained.

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“For us as our race team, we just have to keep running consistent races. If we can keep running in the top 10 and do it consistently, we have our chance to win a race.”

To that end, Stenhouse and his team want to capitalize on their strengths on big, fast speedways while also improving their program on short circuits, where he admits his team didn’t run well. And if they succeeded and found the winner circle, that would be a big breakthrough for both the driver and the team.

On the weekend of July 4, it will be five years since Stenhouse last won a Cup race at Daytona in 2017. For his team, August will mark eight years since their only Cup win at Watkins Glen in 2014. The two have come together close to ending their winless streaks — Stenhouse has racked up three second-place finishes with JTG Daugherty, including inches at Talladega in 2020. And considering the characteristics of the Next Gen car, there’s a sense that one win will be even more possible to make.

“I have a feeling now that with this car, once you get to Victory Lane, you’ll be pretty sure you’ll be able to do it multiple times,” Stenhouse explained. “The car doesn’t change, everyone has similar parts and parts, and when you bring a car to the track you know exactly what you have based on the last time you were on that track. I like what we do, being consistent and don’t make mistakes, because that’s what it takes.

“When you have a car that is capable of winning a race, you can’t make mistakes. You have to go out there and perform. So I like the things we’re doing now in this three-week focus on running, bringing a well-balanced race car to the track, because I think that will pay off in the end.”

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