Top Dog: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
At the start of the year, many would have considered Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 triumph to be a complete fluke, and rightfully so.
But as the NASCAR Cup Series speeds toward the playoffs, Stenhouse and JTG Daugherty Racing are poised to sit comfortably inside the top 16 … in points. Even without his Daytona 500 win, Stenhouse has improved dramatically this season.
The No. 47 team’s success continued at Pocono Raceway on July 23 with a seventh-place finish, his seventh top 10 of the season. But the Pocono race wasn’t handed to him by any means.
Starting 22nd, Stenhouse was largely doomed to stay mid-pack for the whole race. However, in the final stage, a long green-flag run opened up pit strategy for some. Instead of short pitting, Stenhouse and crew chief Mike Kelley decided to do the opposite and run as long as possible.
As bold as that call was, the pit road call was even bolder – Kelley told Stenhouse he would call him to pit road with 14 laps to go and do a fuel-only stop.
While they fell way short of the 14 to go mark, the pit stop was followed just a few laps later by a Chase Briscoe spin that set up a chaotic ending for not only the leaders, but Stenhouse as well, who managed to hang on for seventh and his first top-10 finish at Pocono.
Right behind Stenhouse was Harrison Burton in eighth place. It is Burton’s second top 10 of the season, only behind his sixth-place finish at Darlington Raceway in May.
Rounding out the three consecutive underdogs was Erik Jones in ninth, his first top 10 since Nashville Superspeedway. Jones is coming off back-to-back 11th-place finishes, however, so while his performance is nothing to complain about lately, it must be relieving to finally be on the inside of the top 10 instead of teetering on the outside.
Todd Gilliland also tried a similar strategy as Stenhouse and it worked in his favor, as he was one of just three drivers who hadn’t pitted when the caution came out for Briscoe. Following his pit stop, Gilliland navigated his way through the chaos of the final restarts to finish a quiet but solid 15th.
While 17th may not have been the result AJ Allmendinger wanted, it wasn’t bad in the grand scheme of the playoff battle. He finished two spots ahead of another playoff contender Michael McDowell, and another rival in Daniel Suarez crashed out and finished dead last. Both results allowed Allmendinger to close the gap even more on the playoff cutline.
Who’s in the Dog House?
An OK day for Justin Haley just turned plain awful after a late crash in turn 2 relegated him to 33rd with a totaled racecar to show for it.
This comes fresh off the news that Haley would be joining Rick Ware Racing in 2024 on a multiyear deal, leaving his longtime home of Kaulig Racing to do so. Who knew an underdog driver signing with an underdog team could send shockwaves through the NASCAR world in regard to silly season?
Haley was running mid pack with a few laps to go when he was turned into the turn 2 wall, destroying the rear of his car.
Nobody likes when races end under caution, especially if there’s any chance at a fight for the win, but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. Ryan Preece probably wishes he wasn’t the cause though.
Preece spun off the tunnel turn with two laps to go, but NASCAR withheld the caution in hopes that Preece would get his No. 41 fired up again. As the leaders took the white flag and sailed into turn 1, Preece’s car came to life before quickly stalling again, forcing NASCAR to throw the yellow, ending the race.
Later, onboard footage on pit road showed Preece was extremely unhappy with Corey LaJoie, of whom Preece spun off of. The two exchanged words as Preece was restrained by crew members.
Underdogs Who Built the Sport
Pocono race winner Denny Hamlin is no stranger to victory lane at The Tricky Triangle. The win, his 50th career win, is his seventh career win at Pocono – the most all time – and the site of his first career win (and track sweep) in 2006.
Dominance at a track as tough as Pocono is hard to come by these days. Hamlin’s dominance is reminiscent of that of Dan Gurney‘s dominance at another tough track: Riverside International Raceway.
It’s hard to call a racing legend like Gurney an underdog, but when it came to stock cars, he really was. He competed in just 16 races, and he never had a finish higher than fourth on an oval; the former Riverside International Raceway was always a different story.
Gurney’s road racing experience allowed him to be extremely competitive at Riverside. All five of Gurney’s Cup Series wins came at Riverside, including four straight from 1963 to 1966 before adding his fifth in 1968.
What’s crazy is that he was primed to have two more wins at the track if mechanical issues hadn’t plagued him in 1969 and 1980.
Gurney’s success at Riverside was also crucial to the team he won four of those five races with: a small team from Stuart, Va. named Wood Brothers Racing.
It could be argued that Gurney’s dominance ushered in a new era for WBR, with drivers like Cale Yarborough, Marvin Panch and most notably David Pearson all notching several multi-win seasons with the team, whether it was behind the wheel of the famed No. 21 or otherwise (all of Gurney’s wins with WBR were behind the wheel of the No. 121).
What They’re Saying
Small Team Scheme of the Week
A few weeks ago, Spire Motorsports announced a partnership with Group1001 and its subsidiary Gainbridge.
Given the sponsor’s IndyCar connection with Andretti Autosport, as well as Marco Andretti’s increased presence with the team (including a Craftsman Truck Series start at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course), rumors have increased that Andretti Autosport could buy into Spire with Marco as a driver.
While we don’t know that for sure, what we do know is that Gainbridge is now a primary sponsor for both LaJoie and Ty Dillon, and man did the colors look good aboard Dillon’s No. 77 this week.
But as a sucker for the color green, I also enjoyed Lajoie’s TD Bank No. 7 on track as well.
So, I guess it was a great weekend all around for Spire graphic designers, because both of its cars had some flashy paint schemes.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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