It was quite a disappointing day to be a JTG Daugherty Racing fan this past Sunday at the Ruoff Mortgage 500 in Phoenix. But luckily, this weekend in Atlanta at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, there isn't much place the team can go but up.
The weekend in Phoenix did have an optimal start for the team or Stenhouse. Unfortunately, due to engine issues during practice, the team had to switch out engines which would ultimately force them to start in dead last. As a result, Stenhouse did not participate in qualifying because what's the point?
Throughout his career, Ricky has had little success in Phoenix, only having two Top-10 finishes in ten seasons. Both Top-10 finishes fell in 2017. His average finish in a JTG Daugherty car in Phoenix coming into the weekend was 24.25. I was optimistic last week and said he would finish in the Top-10. But, here is what I know to be true and what keeps my optimism going. When Stenhouse AND the team do not make mistakes, and that nerd Brad isn't being a jerk, Stenhouse has finished in the Top-10 every time, and until they prove me otherwise, I'll continue to say that for every race.
Before I break down the Ruoff Mortgage 500, I feel it's appropriate to go ahead and make my prediction for the Folds of Honor 500. Unfortunately, Atlanta is not a track that JTG Daugherty can look back on and be much proud of. Since 2009 the team has placed in the Top-10 only three times. Once with Marcos Ambros in 2010, with A.J. Allmendinger in 2015, and Chris Buescher in 2019. Fortunately, since Ricky Stenhouse joined the team, he has finished three races in 13th, 12th, and most recently 37th. Now, the 37th position last year was a fluke. Stenhouse did not even finish the race. That being said, JTG Daugherty and Stenhouse should have a decent outing as long as nothing goes wrong with the car or Stenhouse gets wrecked. A Top-15 finish would be acceptable, but the team can finish in the Top-10—final prediction, somewhere between 10th and 15th, and I hope I'm wrong.
Starting in last place isn't the worst thing because there is nowhere you can go but forward. Stage one started with no action until lap 26, when a competition caution was called. For those that do not know, competition caution is defined by NASCAR as "the freezing of the field to accommodate longer pit stops, allowing teams to make more extended in-race adjustments that would normally be made during practice." To simplify, it's a longer pit stop to ensure there are no last-minute adjustments to make before the race gets going without having to worry about your position in the field.
At the restart, Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe lead the pack, and for roughly six laps, Logano holds onto the lead until Briscoe makes a move into first. Then, on lap 46, we see some action when Corey LaJoie hits the wall and loses a tire in turn one. On lap 53, last week's winner, William Byron, would take the lead and go on to win stage one. Stenhouse would finish the stage in a better position than he started in 26th.
Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch would lead the field into stage two, and the race would be quiet for almost forty-three laps when on lap 113, Harrison Burton would scrub the wall. Maybe it's the change in safety managers at Goodyear, but Norman, Oklahoma native, Christopher Bell, would come up with a flat tire bringing out the caution six laps later. After the restart, Ryan Blaney would take the lead and would go on to win stage two. Ricky Stenhouse would fall back two positions and wind up in 28th.
Chase Elliot and Kevin Harvick would fight for first for about six laps to start the final stage until Martin Truex would blow a tire in turn two and hit the wall. At the restart on lap 230, Chase Briscoe would have his chance to make a move. Before completing a full lap, Chase would find his way into first and hold that position until Erik Jones spun off the turn two wall on lap 286.
At the restart, Briscoe would hold onto the lead. A few laps later, Chase Elliott would spin out, another restart would be issued, but Briscoe would fight and come up winning his first Cup Series Race! Stenhouse would finish this dreadful weekend in 28th.
It was a painful one to watch, but we got through it. This week, fingers crossed, all will go well. The team can take a chance to reset and adjust and give us fans a decent finish!