Through the first 10 races of the Cup Series season, just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Entering Dover, Stenhouse was mired in 31st place in the championship standings, the lowest he’s ever been at this point of the season. The goal for Dover was simply to score a top-15 finish, something the No. 47 team had done just once through the opening 10 races of 2022.
Fortunately for the single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team, Stenhouse is solid on concrete tracks, having standout runs in the past at Bristol Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway.
“It’s always been fun coming to these tracks,” Stenhouse said. “The car is always on edge and you can push the front tires too far, overwork the rear tires. I feel like sliding around plays into my hands and not having a lot of grip.”
It sure looked like Stenhouse had a lot of grip in Monday’s DuraMAX Drydene 400, though. The speed started on Saturday, when the No. 47 Chevrolet laid down the 15th-quickest lap in qualifying, his second-best effort of the season. And he remained competitive from the drop of the flag, moving up to 12th by the end of the opening stage. The second stage was even better, as he charged the No. 47 car up to fifth, and would have fared better had a caution flag late in the stage not come out.
For the entire second half of the race, Stenhouse hovered around the top five. And when eventual race winner Chase Elliott took the lead on the final restart, it was the No. 47 Chevrolet that followed suit, passing Ross Chastain.
Over the final stint, Stenhouse remained second, coming up just shy of the victory.
“We needed it bad,” Stenhouse added after the race. “We’ve had good race cars and better race cars than what we’ve shown. It seems like all of our fast races we’ve had issues as far as getting crashed on the speedways, having some engine issues. It was a solid day to put all of this together.
“Our season, it feels worse than what it is because we’ve had three short tracks and have been really bad at those. We’re trying to come up with a new philosophy there, but we were excited to come to Dover.”
Brian Pattie, crew chief of the No. 47 car, saw the speed Stenhouse showed in practice on Saturday. But even with a perceived lack of time on the Chevrolet simulator, he said he was proud of the way his team executed the race.
In addition, the runner-up finish comes immediately after Stenhouse had finishes of 29th and 30th, respectively, at two of his better tracks in Bristol (dirt) and Talladega Superspeedway.
“This is what the team can do most of the time,” Pattie said. “We have good tracks, we have bad tracks just like everybody, but we need to perform better on our good ones and this is one of them. We don’t come here to suck.”
While Dover is Stenhouse’s best finish since also finishing runner-up at the inaugural Bristol Dirt Race last March (also run on a Monday), the result still carries a tad of disappointment to be the first bridesmaid. Without a doubt, he says it will take a win to make the playoffs — despite his Monday move up four positions in the championship standings, 93 points below the cutline.
“That’s why you’re a little frustrated finishing second, knowing that one spot could really flip your season completely upside-down in a good way,” he said. “We will still battle for that and Brian Pattie is calling races to try and get that win that we need.”
The Cup Series heads to Darlington next, where Stenhouse has a best finish of 12th in 12 starts. Last year, he had finishes of 17th and 20th on the track “Too Tough to Tame.”