What. A. Race!!! That is all I can say!!! If you are not a race fan, this race would have made you one with as many cautions, position changes, and lead changes there were. It seemed like you could move ten positions up or down at any given moment for the entire race. I want to dissect every driver from this race, but I'd be sitting here writing this article out for the rest of the season. Since my primary audience is out of Harrisburg, North Carolina, and I've become a fanatic myself, you know who we are talking about today! Driver Ricky Stenhouse and his team, JTG Daugherty Racing.
After the Daytona 500, we could conclude that Ricky is 1. a good driver, and 2. the team has given him a fast car. After his performance at the Coliseum and Daytona, I expected Ricky to show out in the Wise Power 400. His practice was promising, finishing with the twelfth fastest lap time, only slightly slower than eventual Wise Power 400 Champion, Kyle Larson.
Ricky's qualifying session was a little less flattering than his practice and, unfortunately, would finish seventeenth. Ricky's history at the Wise Power 400 (Auto Club 400) was something to question coming into this race as he had only finished in the Top-10 once, back in 2016 when he was racing for Roush Fenway.
So, the stage is set. Ricky is starting in seventeenth and has to work his way up to earn stage points. It's a less than ideal position, especially with the field ahead, but JTG Daugherty has given Stenhouse a car that can get the job done.
18 Laps in, most every race fan's prayers are answered. Kyle Busch spins out on the backstretch. This is the first Toyota of many to overheat today. Then, 36 laps in, Busch overheats again. Thanks to tire issues, Chase Elliot finds his way into the wall two laps later. Overall, there were four cautions in stage one. Stenhouse would find his way into the tenth position to clinch one stage point. Tyler Reddick would go on to win the stage.
Stage two barely gets underway, and another caution is issued five laps later. Again, because of tire issues. #38 Todd Gilliland loses his tire and has to inch his way back to pit road. On lap 91, the #11 Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin overheats, and Oklahoma Native Christopher Bell finds his car spinning off the wall as Hamlin finds his way to the pits. Reddick would win stage two, but unfortunately, no stage points were issued for our guy Ricky
We are in the last leg of the race, and Stenhouse has the car and he has the skill to find his way back into the Top-10. We get a bit of a break from all the action until the race leader, Tyler Reddick, loses his left rear tire and William Byron (WHO? BYRON!!!) would swipe Reddick's left side and put us in the first caution of the final stage. Once we get back to racing, it takes less than ten laps until another caution is issued.
Now, I'm not a big believer in Karma, but sometimes you get what you deserve. Last week, Brad Keselowski took Ricky Stenhouse out of the race on lap 195, literally five laps before the race ends. This week, Keselowski was taken out by Bubba Wallace while fighting for the #8 spot on lap 158. If you watch the replay, Stenhouse just barely dodged the wreck, and I think this is proof of just how good of a racer Stenhouse is. To stay calm and collected while there is a wreck going on a foot on the outside of you is impressive. Seriously, go check the replay. I'll admit, I got more excited than I am proud of when I heard Keselowski tell his crew, "We might be done here." Freaking nerd.
With 52 laps left in the race, Stenhouse fluctuated his position in the field but would eventually be the tenth driver to cross the finish line at the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
As mentioned in my Daytona 500 recap for JTG Daugherty and Ricky Stenhouse, I fully expected a Top-10 finish from the team. The team is en route to having their best season yet (unless that nerd Brad Keselowski targets Ricky every race). Perhaps the Next-Gen cars are giving smaller teams an edge, but that is another topic I may touch up on one day. Had it not been for the wreck in Daytona, JTG Daugherty would have their first pair of Top-10 Finishes to start the season in the Cup Series.
As we move onto the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, my expectations for this team are significantly higher than the previous two races because if I had to bet on one race for JTG Daugherty Racing and Ricky Stenhouse to win this season, it's this one. Two years ago, he finished third, so we know he knows this track well. With how Stenhouse has been driving, how well the car has been running, and Stenhouse's recent history at Las Vegas, I fully expect a Top-5 finish. How do you think our local team will finish this upcoming weekend?