By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
Let’s be honest: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had a roller coaster-type career in the NASCAR Cup Series since entering the ranks full time in 2013. Expectations were sky-high for the Mississippi-born driver after winning back-to-back championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (then NASCAR Nationwide Series).
Entering the 2023 season, Stenhouse only had two wins to his name at the sport’s top level – both of which came in 2017 – where he ended up a career-best 13th in the standings when it was all said and done.
Following years of mediocrity (not all of which has been in his control), it’s safe to say Stenhouse has transformed into a legitimate contender in NASCAR’s 75th season.
Stenhouse began the year as great as one possibly can: with a victory in the Daytona 500. While it came as no surprise the 35-year-old scored his third superspeedway win, how he and the team have fared beyond The Great American Race is nothing short of remarkable.
Heading into the 15th race on the circuit – more than halfway through the regular season – Stenhouse has established himself as a top-10 threat on a weekly basis.
Coming out of the Coca-Cola 600, Stenhouse not only tied his 2022 top-10 total of five with a seventh-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he’s currently riding a seven-race top-15 streak
Make no mistake, this is not a fluke.
Stenhouse’s driving ability was never in question; it was the middle-of-the-pack equipment at JTG Daugherty Racing many had pegged as the reason for the reigning Daytona 500 Champion’s woes in 10 full-time Cup campaigns.
One of the proposed benefits of the seventh-generation car was it would significantly tighten the competitive gap between top-tier teams and those who’ve historically struggled to keep up. Now in year-two of the Next Gen car, you’re starting to see teams like RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports and JTG bring truth to NASCAR’s vision with proven results.
At this point last season, Stenhouse was ranked 24th in the standings with a 21st-place average finish.
Through 14 races, Stenhouse has locked himself into the playoffs for the first time since 2017 by virtue of his win in the Daytona 500 and sits 13th in the standings tied for the fourth-best average finish among drivers who’ve started every race at 13.5.
What’s been even more impressive than the statistical success is how Stenhouse and the No. 47 team have been able to get quality finishes. It seems like almost every week, they’re caught up in an on-track incident or pit road mishap, and they’re still able to rebound against the adversity.
Most recently, Stenhouse had a flat tire at Darlington Raceway while running top-10 with under 90 to go and was able to rally for a 13th-place effort – at a track notorious for being one of the toughest to pass at.
The bottom line is Stenhouse and JTG are easily one of – if not the – most improved drivers and teams from 2022 to now. It’s going to be fun to see if they can pile onto what’s tracking towards a career-best season for the two-time Xfinity Series Champion.
Stenhouse looks to keep momentum rolling into World Wide Technology Raceway, where he has three prior Xfinity starts with a career-best finish of ninth back in 2010. He was 28th-quickest in practice – 0.532 seconds off the pace from defending race winner Joey Logano’s chart-topping lap of 32.811 seconds.
Stenhouse rolls off 12th in the Enjoy Illinois 300 from World Wide Technology Raceway on June 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Stenhouse has proven to be one of the most reliable drivers in daily fantasy this season and borders lineup-lock territory riding a seven-race top-15 streak tied for the fourth-best average finish in Cup.
Keep in mind, Stenhouse starts 12th and was 28th-fastest in the lone practice session of the weekend. Additionally, he placed 32nd at Gateway last year. However, with three Xfinity starts at WWT Raceway, he does have more laps logged at the 1.25-mile track than most of the drivers in the field.
If you aren’t comfortable trusting Stenhouse in DFS, consider a top-10 finish prop bet.