Matthew Thacker/Motorsport Images
The racing towns of Dover, Delaware and Darlington, South Carolina are 498 miles away from one another, and that’s the trek Ricky Stenhouse will be making on his way to Sunday’s Goodyear 400 on the 1.366-mile Track Too Tough To Tame.
Smack off a runner-up finish at last Monday’s rain-delayed DuraMAX Drydene 400 at Darlington, the result has put a spring in the step of Stenhouse and the entire JTG Daugherty Racing operation.
“I’m just rolling down the road to the simulator,” Stenhouse says when he answers the phone. “Each week we try and get simulator time and see if we can’t dial our cars in, so today I’ll be full-on Darlington when I get to the simulator and my guys are at the shop are in wait mode right now. When we get done with the simulator, we’ll shoot over the setup and they’ll get ready to put that in and get the car loaded today and get it shipped to Darlington.
‘You know for our team, we don’t get priority with the simulator. Obviously, the bigger Chevy manufacturer teams get first dibs on that, so our time on the simulator is pushed a little later in the week. That’s a little bit difficult for us, but we’ll take any time that we can get because we feel it’s really important to our success. Making laps on the simulator is very important to us because we don’t have much practice now.”
What has also helped motivate Stenhouse and the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has been the engines supplied by Hendrick Motorsports.
“We’ve actually had some issues this year with some valve springs breaking,” Stenhouse says of the Hendrick mills. “I don’t think it’s any fault of the engine builder, but sometimes you just go through a bad batch of parts. You look back on our season and we were running eight at Las Vegas when we broke a valve spring and ended up finishing 21st. That was a bummer. As far as feeling like I have good power and stuff, I feel real good about that.”
While the 2022 NASCAR Cup season and its results have added up to something close to nothing – prior to Dover, Stenhouse was 31st in points – the runner-up run at Dover can now serve as a positive catalyst for he and his race team.
Stenhouse is hoping to build some momentum from the Dover result. Motorsport Images
“It does help,” says Stenhouse of the Dover score. “I was just telling somebody, it’s easy to get in this business and to get down on yourself or your team and your team guys might not be pumped up, but having a solid day like Sunday at Dover really shows that if we keep putting in the work, those results will come.
“We all have to do our jobs. We can’t speed on pit road, we can’t make mistakes in the pits, our pit crew has to have a solid day. Obviously, we are capable of running that well and it depends on what kind of setup we get in the car and if we hit it right that weekend. I think the biggest thing is that we finally put a whole race together with no issues. The car was fast. And we were looking forward to going to Dover. We had a good test session in the simulator the week before and we felt strong going in, so it was cool to kind of see to see feelings that we felt come to life. We finally put it all together.
“Honestly, we’ve been working on different setups and trying to come up with different ideas. You know, a single car team and just trying to do all of that on your own is pretty tough, so it was nice to hit on something where we were like, ‘Alright, that’s what we’re looking for.’ So now it is trying to replicate that every week and now we have something to shoot for. It’s like, ‘Alright, we did this, this and this and we feel good about it and let’s keep that rolling.’ The Dover result put a big spring in our step, for sure. It makes everybody excited about going to Darlington this weekend.”
Now with two top 10 finishes in the 2022 Cup season, Stenhouse and company are all too familiar with the realities of being a one-car team.
“We fight,” he says. “I mean we scratch and claw for everything we’ve got. With a single car team, your resources aren’t as much. We have really good partners and sponsorship with our team, but when you’re with a full manufacturer like with a Chevy or a Ford or a Toyota there is an influx of cash and an influx of knowledge that comes to your team. You’re constantly getting way more information as one of those key partners. We get a little information here and there. We get to use some simulator time and we just have to make sure we use the stuff that we do get to the best of our ability. Our guys are learning this new car as quickly as they can and I’m happy with the progress.”
So this Sunday will bring Darlington, and immediately thereafter, a host of mile-and-a-half race circuits Stenhouse and crew expect to excel on.
“Darlington is tough,” says Stenhouse. “It is its own race track, it’s kind of like Dover. It is its own animal. It’s tough. The cars are going to be a handful. But there are a lot of mile-and-a-half tracks coming up and that’s where we have been stronger this year – those faster race tracks. We were running good in Las Vegas, and we were good at Fontana. Dover was more high-speed. We actually were better at the road courses than we were the short tracks to start the season and I’m looking forward to running some more of those. But I’m biting my nails and ready to go for these mile-and-a-half race tracks”