It was a rough week for Ricky Stenhouse and the #47 Sunny-D car this past weekend in Austin, Texas at the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. Over the last few weeks, JTG Daugherty Racing has been plagued with bad luck, and this weekend was no different. It started with a terrible practice, but at a road course, how well you do in practice and how well you do in the actual race do not exactly correlate. Drivers like Kaz Grala had a better day at practice than Chase Elliot and Alex Bowman. Again, not a lot of correlation here.
Each track requires a specific kind of attention. There are no two tracks that are the same. There are many factors that drivers and teams must think about, such as pavement, degree of turns, track length, the weather, etc. Road courses such as the Circuit of the Americas are especially tricky for teams since the track has more than four turns, elevation changes, and right turns, amongst other factors. These factors influence how the team adjusts the engine, tires, transmission, and other components to produce the best possible vehicle to put on the track for a successful day.
Though practice for Stenhouse was awful, qualifying for Stenhouse was better. It still was not great, but better. Stenhouse would start the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in 28th.
Stage one kicked off with Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez leading the pack. Blaney led for a portion of the first lap, but Suarez would take the lead and hold onto it for the entirety of the stage. We would be blessed with a Kyle Busch spinout on lap ten after a little bump from behind from Chase Elliott. Stenhouse would have a phenomenal first stage and move up in the field to finish the first fifteen laps in 12th.
Stage two started with Kyle Larson spinning out on turn eight. Stenhouse, being the wreck-avoiding legend that he is, was not involved. Unfortunately for the #47 car, issues would begin to arise on lap 24 when a cylinder went down. A few laps later, Stenhouse would pit, requesting the team look at the plug wires. This must have done some good as Stenhouse would move back up in the field to 11th, his highest position of the day.
At the end of Stage two, the team would look under the hood since the car was not producing adequate power. After the stop down pit road, Stenhouse would report that something was still off about the car. At the restart, Stenhouse started in 34th. Despite the car feeling off, Stenhouse continued to stay on the track until a caution was issued on lap 34 after a spinout that Joey Hand and Aric Almirola were involved in. Stenhouse pit again, but this time shut his car off to replace the car's spark plug. At the restart, the #47 car would be at the back of the pack. Unfortunately, the car would have its share of issues for the rest of the stage. On lap 55, JTG Daugherty would bring the car in for good because the drive shaft broke. Stenhouse finished the race in 37th.
Of the six races this year, there has only been one where Stenhouse would finish in a position better than 20th. There are a few reasons to be optimistic, though:
JTG Daugherty is a small team, and with a small team that does not have as many resources as Gibbs or Hendrick, mechanical issues are basically inevitable. However, the team putting these cars together seems to learn from their mistakes. We have seen glimpses of greatness, and I predict that it will take one good race to change the trajectory of the season for this team. Currently, Stenhouse has 92 points on the season and is sitting in 27th. There is still a lot of racing left.
This upcoming weekend the Cup Series travels to Richmond Raceway. Again, we are going to stay on the optimism train. Stenhouse had a Top-5 finish at the 2017 Toyota Owners 400. Richmond is a shorter, flat-track like Phoenix, just more rounded. The Phoenix Race can be blamed on Stenhouse not driving well. Hopefully, that outing is nothing more than a learning experience and Stenhouse comes into this race with confidence to give us another Top-10 finish.