This past Sunday was a tragic day to be a JTG Daugherty Racing fan. Last week's performance in Phoenix was a letdown, and for the majority of the season, the team cannot seem to catch a break. The potential for this team to be great is there. The issue lies on issues made by either the team or the driver or outside factors out of either party's control.
Heading into the sixth race of the season in Austin, Texas, at the Circuit of the Americas, Ricky Stenhouse should have at least three Top-10 finishes. Stenhouse is known to be a phenomenal Super Speedway racer, which is why up until Brad Keselowski plowed into him, he was leading the race. He had fallen back a little at the restart, but not enough to take him out of the Top-10.
The race at Auto Club Speedway was successful as Stenhouse finished tenth. But then Las Vegas and Phoenix hit, and it seemed like Stenhouse couldn't pull it together, or the car wasn't very good. You cannot expect a good finishing position when one of those is off.
Heading into Sunday, putting all bias aside, this was Ricky Stenhouse's race to lose. During practice, he drove phenomenally, and the team put together the best car they've put out all season. The combination of a good car and a good driver resulted in having the best lap time during practice. A Top-10 finish was basically a lock for JTG Daugherty and Stenhouse.
Stenhouse would start in twenty-eighth to start the race, and while seven lead changes are going on, Stenhouse is making his trek to the front of the pack. On lap 24, the driver of the #16 car, Noah Gragson, gets loose and spins into the wall of turn two. At this point, Stenhouse has moved from twenty-eighth to tenth. Multiple lead changes would occur before the end of Stage One, but Stenhouse waited patiently for his time to attack.
William Byron, driver of the #24 car, would finish Stage One in first, and Stenhouse would finish the stage in fourth thanks to Kyle Busch, who was in third, once again getting aggressive and turning Austin Dillon, who was in fourth, into the wall on the front stretch.
Stage Two would begin with Christopher Bell leading the pack. Within 20 laps of stage two, there would be four lead changes, and Ricky Stenhouse on lap 130 would lead the pack for the first time. Unfortunately, he would only be able to hold onto the lead before Justin Haley pulled ahead. A common trend for this race is the many lead changes. By the 140th lap, there would be seventeen lead changes.
Stenhouse would lose the lead for forty-seven laps before taking over again. Two cautions involving several drivers, including Kyle Larson and Joey Logano, were issued between losing the lead and earning it back. Stenhouse took over on lap 185 and held onto it comfortably for sixteen laps. Then all hell broke loose.
Heading into turn three, Stenhouse would lose a tire causing him to spin out, but what put him out of the race was Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 car, getting rear-ended, causing him to run into the driver's side of the JTG Daugherty racecar. Stenhouse would be finished for the day.
The downside of being a fan of a one-driver team is that if that one driver goes out, you don't have anyone else to root for, and yes, I am a fan of the TEAM. I love Stenhouse, but JTG Daugherty Racing is my team. Since Stenhouse went out, I had to root for someone else for the rest of the race, so I announced my Top-4 Drivers on Twitter (@DawsonHaywood).
My favorite driver will always be whoever is driving a JTG Daugherty car. Right now, that's Ricky Stenhouse. My second favorite is Martin Truex Jr. I enjoyed watching him and Kyle Busch go at it in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. Then, he was with Furniture Row Racing and not on the same team as Kyle Busch, so it was pretty exciting. My third favorite driver is Chase Briscoe, and that is because I had a close friend of mine pass away last year, and Briscoe honored him by placing a sticker of him on his car for the race following his passing. That gesture meant a lot. Finally, my fourth favorite racer is really on this list to give my fiancee someone to root for. Christopher Bell is from Norman, Oklahoma, and I'm sure he is the only Cup Series driver from Oklahoma, the state my fiancee's family is from.
William Byron would win the Fields of Honor 500, giving Hendrick Motorsports their third win of the season, and Stenhouse would finish thirty-first after leading for 16 laps and seven bonus points thanks to his fourth-place stage finish.
This upcoming Sunday, the Cup Series will be visiting the Texas Grand Prix in Houston to compete in the Echopark Automotive Grand Prix, a 68 lap, 232.9-mile race. This is the first road course race of the season and the second cup series race at the Circuit of the Americas. Last year, Stenhouse finished 22nd, the lowest he would finish at a road course in 2021. Since the sample size for this specific track, I will stand by what I have been saying all season. As long as Stenhouse is driving well, the engine doesn't fall out of the bottom, and outside factors like a tire blowing or Brad Keselowski taking out Ricky, the #47 car can finish Top-10 in any race. I still do not have solid reasoning to think otherwise. Also, the Sunny-D car is back.