BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could not have had a more bumpy return to racing after NASCAR’s 10-week shutdown.
How bad was Stenhouse crashed on the first lap of the first race and finished last.
It followed with a 25th place finish in the second Cup race at Darlington Raceway, then 24th at the Coca-Cola 600. In three races, Stenhouse fell seven spots in the standings to 24th.
Stenhouse finally came out of it on Thursday night on a second visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway with fourth place for his new JTG-Daugherty Racing team.
“It was really good to have a smooth and trouble-free race,” said Stenhouse. “It was huge to get a good race and to pass a lot of really good cars.”
The next step is Sunday’s stop at Bristol Motor Speedway, the fifth Cup race since NASCAR resumed on May 17 and a decent track for Stenhouse. His six career top-10 results rank Bristol only behind Talladega Superspeedway on the slopes where Stenhouse has delivered.
This is Stenhouse’s first season in JTG, but he surrounded himself with familiar faces from his tenure at Roush Fenway Racing including former crew chief Brian Pattie. The duo is transitioning from running in a Ford to a Chevrolet now and preparing for events that don’t include practice or qualification.
As NASCAR tries to make up eight postponed point races, the schedule has condensed into one-day shows, and teams don’t have two or more practice sessions to score a setup. Stenhouse and Chris Buescher essentially traded trips in late 2019, and Buescher’s old notes from Bristol are at your disposal.
“Our setups, looking at what we normally run compared to what they ran here, are quite similar, so I feel good about it,” said Stenhouse, adding that he is quickly getting comfortable in the current Camaro and NASCAR aero package. .
“The feeling I have in this race car is better than what I had in my Cup cars during my career so far,” he said. “I am looking forward to coming to Bristol knowing that we have had good races there. We have had opportunities to win there. It would be nice to be able to get up and lead a few laps, and compete for a victory there as well.”
The field was established by a random draw and Brad Keselowski was again fortunate enough to take the pole. It will start first for the second time in five races.
It was a strong lottery for Team Penske, which got its three drivers in the first two rows. Joey Logano will start second and Ryan Blaney third.