Is 2023 a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption year?

Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two profession Cup Sequence wins in 364 begins. However each wins — and his career-high Thirteenth-place season end — occurred again in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the information once in a while at a superspeedway however may very well be counted upon to move up season-ending lists of drivers concerned in probably the most accidents. Within the years Stenhouse hasn’t been on the prime of the checklist, he’s been close to the highest.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse all through his NASCAR profession. Jack Roush went as far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days within the Xfinity Sequence as a result of he tore up a lot tools.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, occurring to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way in which his 2023 season has began, it seems as if Stenhouse is likely to be on the same mission of redemption this yr within the Cup Sequence.

Stenhouse began the 2023 season in the very best approach – profitable the Daytona 500. However drivers from less-funded groups who win early superspeedway races often settle to the underside of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks Thirteenth heading into Sunday’s race at World Vast Know-how Raceway.

Standings aren’t nearly as good a ruler this yr as they often are due to drivers lacking races and groups incurring penalties. However Stenhouse’s statistics again up his rating.

Stenhouse has completed each race this yr on observe, versus within the storage or on the hook. Solely Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the identical distinction.

In 11 of these 14 races, Stenhouse completed on the lead lap. That’s the identical variety of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for many races completed on the lead lap with 13 every.

This time final yr, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he can be concerned in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this yr, Stenhouse has been concerned in solely two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire exit at Darlington.

Approaching his profession finest

I evaluate three years in Stenhouse’s profession within the desk under: the 2017 season — his finest thus far — together with final yr and the 14 races run up to now this yr.

Stenhouse’s present common ending place of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth finest within the Cup Sequence. That’s 9.3 positions higher than Stenhouse’s 2022 common. He’s even beating his 2017 common by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying outcomes are down a bit from 2017 — however do not forget that these numbers are from the times when NASCAR allowed a number of apply classes. Stenhouse is simply two positions worse relative to 2017, however 7.6 positions higher than final yr with regards to establishing his spot on the beginning grid.

Stenhouse’s common operating place is akin to 2017 and a pair of.8 positions higher than 2022. He ranks twentieth amongst full-time Cup Sequence drivers in common operating place. Though it’s an enchancment, it’s nonetheless greater than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 common operating place this yr.

Extra attention-grabbing is the distinction between Stenhouse’s common operating place his common ending place. Some drivers run higher than they end. Stenhouse is doing the other.

In 2017, Stenhouse completed about 1.4 positions higher than he ran. This yr, he’s gaining a median of about 5 positions from the place he runs.

One may argue this acquire outcomes from the plethora of late-race incidents this yr which have eliminated drivers within the entrance of the sphere from rivalry. However Stenhouse deserves credit score for placing himself able to learn from these occasions.

Stenhouse’s green-flag pace rank is eleventh amongst full-time Cup Sequence drivers. His 15.3 common, nonetheless, is 1.7 positions worse than Tenth-place Kyle Busch. Nonetheless, it’s spectacular that JTG Daugherty is true there within the combine with a lot better-funded groups. William Byron once more has one of the best common green-flag pace rank at 7.9.

Persistently robust finishes

It’s not unusual for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. However Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win seems to be one thing extra. The desk under summarizes his wins and finishes for a similar three years.

The distinction between final yr and this yr is hanging.

In 2022, Stenhouse completed within the prime 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this yr. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 in comparison with 33.3% final yr. High-20 finishes aren’t the identical as contending for a championship. However they’re a primary step.

Stenhouse completed 2017 with 9 top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned 5 top-10 finishes this yr.

What’s modified? The Subsequent Gen automotive is one issue, nevertheless it didn’t make a lot distinction for Stenhouse final yr. I’d level as an alternative to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted each of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Though Kelley labored with Stenhouse and former crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, that is the primary yr Kelley is again up on the pit field.

Collectively, they’re mainly midway to matching Stenhouse’s finest yr.

And one other step nearer to redemption.

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