The 2011 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked Ricky Stenhouse’s debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Substituting for Roush Racing teammate Trevor Bayne, Stenhouse finished 11th in the Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
398 races later, Ricky Stenhouse now has 399 NASCAR Cup starts to his name and the Tennesseean will make that start number 400 this Sunday when he climbs into the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Ford.
“400 starts? That’s wild,” said Stenhouse. “That’s pretty cool. It seems like just yesterday that I made my first Cup start back in 2011 and, man, that just seems like such a long time ago. When you start adding it all up, it really is a very long time ago. I’m just definitely blessed to still be in the sport and to still be racing at a high level and I feel like we still have a lot left to accomplish and I’m looking forward to 400 more. Who knows?”
For the 2023 Cup season, Mike Kelley was brought into the JTG Daugherty Racing fold to serve as crew chief for Stenhouse and the No. 47 team. Previously Stenhouse’s crew chief in 2011 and 2012 when the duo won back-to-back Xfinity titles, Kelley and his driver sketched out a goal of a top 15 average finish in ‘23. As of Martinsville last Sunday, Stenhouse has maintained a 17.7 average. His take on the arithmetic?
“I’m pumped with the way this year went,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in the playoffs; I feel like we’ve had good speed and we just haven’t executed. There were a couple of off races on my end and couple off races on the team end. There are definitely things to work on this approaching off-season, but nothing that we are not capable of fixing and I think that’s the beauty of where we are at right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but it is lot of stuff that we can control ourselves. That is the thing that I’m most excited about going into the off-season.
“We had a decent run at Martinsville last weekend. We had a couple car issues there towards the end of the race with some brakes and some fuel and stuff that cost us a better finish than what we had. But we ran good there towards the end of that race and we made our car better. Hopefully we can go to Phoenix this weekend and really have a strong run. It is a similar track to Gateway, and we had a real strong run at Gateway this year. We’re hoping that we can cap off the season with another strong run at Phoenix.”
An improvement in in-race execution, as well as a boost in internal team confidence has also helped Stenhouse and the No. 47 team climb up the timing and scoring monitors.
“I think we have all improved with execution and even team confidence,” said Stenhouse. “I think we all know that there is still a lot left there for us to get. We all believe in each other. We want to just try to make sure we do all the little things that we can control right. That’s something that I don’t feel like we’ve done a good job of late in the season. In the beginning and the middle part of the season we did that really, really well. We just got off just a little bit on just executing.”
Stenhouse believes Kelley’s influence and effect on the team have been major positives.
“Mike definitely brings a different mindset to a race team,” said Stenhouse. “He’s been around race cars his whole life. He knows how to work on them and he knows what makes them go fast, but you also need engineers and different people to come up with different setups to be fast, and I believe that Mike lets everybody at our company take charge of their role.
“Everybody at this level can do the job that they’re hired to do and they’re all really good at it, and it is just about how you get that last little bit out of your employees or you driver or whatever to be a little bit better than everybody else.”
Stenhouse, Kelley and the No. 47 race team are well aware that being a single-car operation calls for a remarkable amount of teamwork, cooperation and resourcefulness.
“Next year, we will be the only single car out there,” said Stenhouse. “The last single car team just got bought. We’ll be the last one standing. That comes with its benefits and it also comes with its struggles, but I like what we are doing and the improvement we made from 2022 to 2023 was pretty big. If we make another small step in 2024, we’ll be right in the mix.”
“Honestly, it’s all about diving into each race come 2024. My engineers are going to dive into the setups and try to make sure we get those better. For me, obviously I’m going to hit the gym and keep training there. I want to try and make sure that I’m doing everything I can. With my crew chief Mike Kelley, we also want to go back through the races where we didn’t execute well. We’ve already talked about it, but we just want to kind of go over it all again this off-season and come up with a better gameplan for each race so that we are not doing it the week of. I think things like that will help us.”