By Cole Cusumano
Entering the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series arguably the most even-keeled silly season move was the seat swap between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher. Both NASCAR Xfinity Series Champions with wins and moderate success at the premier level racing decently adequate equipment. Admittedly, these once bright stars have slightly dimmed during their tenure at the sport’s highest level, so a change in scenery was necessary in trying to reinvigorate their careers.
Now halfway through 2020, as predicted, the results between the pair of drivers are eerily similar. In driving the No. 17 for Roush Fenway Racing, Buescher has four top-10s, which matches his career-high in the Cup Series. For Stenhouse and his new home at JTG Daugherty Racing, he’s produced three top-fives.
Both athletes had done admirably enough to remain in contention for the Playoffs upon entering the weekend at Kansas Speedway. Stenhouse, who entered the night 23rd in the standings expressed excitement in returning to The Sunflower State after leading laps in both events last season and finishing as high as 11th in the Spring.
Feeling content at the midway point, the driver of the No. 47 is feeling motivated and opportunistic about his chances the rest of the way.
“For me, I see a lot of opportunities to get more top-fives and top-10s, especially on these 1.5-mile race tracks,” Stenhouse told POPULAR SPEED. “I feel like our cars are really good there.
Intermediate tracks were the sights for two of the top-fives this season. On the other hand, outside of those results, he had only finished inside the top-15 once through nine 1.5-mile events.
The important thing is that Stenhouse has been put in position to secure these quality finishes. He attributes this to the bold calls atop the pit box from crew chief, Brian Pattie. The Mississippi-native largely believes remaining with the six-time Cup Series winner made for a smooth transition, enabling them to find success early with their new team.
While starting the year by winning the Pole in the Daytona 500 and scoring top-fives felt good, Stenhouse knows there’s still much work to be done in order to make his Chevrolet team competitive each week.
“We still have room for improvement on landing the balance that we want at some of these race tracks, but I definitely see a lot of opportunity to run more consistent and further to the front than what we have so far this year,” Stenhouse revealed. “I believe in everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing. They’re working hard and they’re pumped-up and excited for the speed that we’ve had so far.”
The two-time Xfinity Series Champion’s postseason hopes took another massive hit during the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas after an electrical failure ended his day early and left him last in the event. Following his top-15 at the conclusion of the Pocono Raceway doubleheader, Stenhouse has not finished about 29th and has only amassed 11 points over the last four races.
Stenhouse admits he’s probably surprised fans this year — for better and for worse — but he’s hoping to recapture some magic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where he’s notched two top-10s. The JTG Daugherty team currently sits 25th in the standings after dropping five spots in the standings during their downward spiral, so they’ll likely need a win to advance to the Playoffs.
Right now it should be about running consistently and building a strong set of notes for the remainder of the season and 2021.