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A timely caution following a strategic pass for the lead on the final lap of the second overtime preserved Stenhouse’s win in the NASCAR Cup season opener.
It was a much-needed win for Stenhouse and his team.
Stenhouse had last won in 2017 – a winless streak of 199 races. While JTG Daugherty’s only previous Cup victory had some in 2014 with driver A.J. Allmendinger at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Both driver and team were looking to return to contenders and winning the sport’s biggest race certainly provides an impressive statement.
Race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JTG Daugherty Racing, Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images
The road to consistent success in the Cup Series has been a bumpy one for both driver and team a result such as Sunday’s helps provide confirmation both are on the right path.
“Make no mistake, this is a battle. The competition in this series is fierce and it’s serious, and we are blessed to have the partners that we have and the sponsors that we have,” said team co-owner Jodi Geschickter. “But it’s a battle and it’s a fight, and it’s hard.
“It’s not for lack of effort. We’ve come really close, so I try not to get our hopes up. When it was the last lap (Sunday night) and there’s another caution, I just think, ‘Dear Lord, please, no. We need it. We need it, and we need it now. We need it tonight. We need it to happen.’
“And it did.”
Stenhouse, 35, was is a similar situation in his career.
Despite winning back-to-back titles in the Xfinity Series in 2011 and 2012 with Roush Fenway Racing, he went winless in his first four seasons in Cup.
Then in 2017, Stenhouse earned his first two series wins – at Talladega and the Daytona summer race. But that success was fleeting as he didn’t win the next two years and lost his ride at Roush.
Stenhouse got a second chance joining JTG Daugherty in 2020, which has since become a single-car operation. The organization struggled last year in the debut season for the Next Gen car, finishing 26th in the series standings.
“Definitely never thought about giving up. I felt like, yeah, 2017, winning a couple races was huge for us, but I’ll even look back at that season, and we still weren’t super stellar,” he said. “We had our ups and downs. But obviously two wins kind of puts a Band-Aid on some of those things that you can overlook.
“But I think for me, coming to JTG Daugherty Racing was a nice reset. We had two cars at the time, moved to a single-car team, which I think has been beneficial. We’ve been able to put a lot of focus on the No. 47 car, and everybody in the shop.”
Stenhouse said he and the team experienced “a great moment” over the offseason during a team lunch.
“They had a video put together, and it put some of JTG’s wins in there, my wins in there, and kind of helped us realize that – hey, we need these wins together, and realized that we could do that.
“We’ve both done it in our past, so it’s special to do it together.”
Sunday’s win now opens a slew of opportunities for the organization.
Stenhouse is all-but ensured a spot in the 16-driver playoffs, which provides an opportunity for him to win his first series championship and in turn shines an even bigger spotlight on the organization and its sponsors.
“You work hard, you need to finish things,” Jodi Geschickter said. “For me, that feels like validation. That feels like a finish. We needed that. Our guys needed that. Our sponsors needed that.
“Kroger people have been with us for 16 years. They needed that. They needed to see us in Victory Lane. They needed to be there with us. I am just thrilled to death that we were able to do that together.”