Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of 14 team previews on NASCAR.com. Next up: Germain Racing on Feb. 6. A list of team previews already published is at the bottom of this story.
JTG Daugherty Racing
Engine: ECR Engines
Drivers: Chris Buescher, No. 37; AJ Allmendinger, No. 47
Crew chiefs: Trent Owens (Buescher), Tristan Smith (Allmendinger)
2017 standings: Buescher, 25th in final standings; Allmendinger, 27th in final standings
What’s new: Namely a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, which JTG Daugherty Racing officials confirmed in November 2017. The aim? Improve the team’s simulation abilities and aero development. The No. 37 team also has a charter of its own after leasing one last year; the organization purchased it from Furniture Row Racing in the offseason. That brings added stability to an organization that grew to two teams in 2017 and rotated three crews chiefs on the flagship No. 47 Chevrolet. And of course, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is a new — and welcome — addition for all teams that run Chevrolets.
What to watch: If a more consistent operation brings more consistency to results. It’s Year 2 for Buescher with JTG, and he enters the season more comfortable in his ride and with the team’s personnel. For Allmendinger, having Smith return as crew chief brings stability he didn’t have last year.
Key question(s): Will AJ Allmendinger return to his road-course ace form at Sonoma and Watkins Glen? Those road courses likely represent the team’s best shot at winning and advancing into the playoffs … where another road course, at Charlotte, looms as the Round of 16 elimination race.
Chris Buescher, No. 37 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet: One year after joining JTG Daugherty Racing on loan from Roush Fenway Racing to help the team launch its second-car operation, Buescher is fully under contract for his sophomore season with the team. Coming off a win during his rookie year in 2016, Buescher didn’t get back to Victory Lane last year, but he quietly made noticeable gains.
His average finish jumped five positions to 21.4, and his top-10 finishes doubled to four. Improving those numbers even more is the goal for 2018. “I feel like we’re making really good progress in the offseason,” Buescher said. “We’ve been in a place where we’ve made our alliance with Hendrick on the simulation and some of the aero development is very promising. … At times last season we didn’t have the performance that we wanted, and that’s frustrating. … We feel like we’ve come a long way through 2017 and the offseason.”
AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet: Allmendinger had more crew chiefs than top-five finishes in 2017, starting the season with Randall Burnett, before Ernie Cope replaced him atop the box … before eventually giving way to Tristan Smith. It was difficult to meet performance goals with that turnover (Allmendinger’s top-five finishes dropped from two to one, and his top-10 finishes fell from nine to five), but the team hopes it is now better positioned for 2018. Allmendinger remains one of the series’ best road-course racers.
Sneaking a win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen brings added meaning this year as the playoffs add a road course in the first round at Charlotte, where Allmendinger could shine. Allmendinger’s prowess at Martinsville is an under-the-radar talent.
He said that he and Buescher have a fantastic relationship that should continue to grow.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate than Chris,” Allmendinger said. “He’s got so much talent. I’ve learned a lot from him. But more importantly, he was just easy to work with. And we are able to bounce ideas off each other and feed info to figure out where we needed to get better. Having a full year under our belt, I think that’s something that’s going to allow us to really make both of these teams work together and be one big team and go out there.”