Last year we ranked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 21st and that is about where he landed in the final points standings. In 2020, he gives up his 23rd-place ride and climbs behind the wheel of a car that finished 26th in the standings.
This is going to be a critical season for Stenhouse and it could determine his long term future. In his eighth fulltime season, he has watched as Roush Fenway Racing has slowly gone from one of the powerhouses of this sport to an also-ran on far too many occasions. In 2013 he was part of the three-car organization that included Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. When Edwards disappeared, Trevor Bayne was tagged to replace him and the overall performance fell.
Biffle was gone by 2017 leaving the team as a two-car operation with a pair of moderately successful drivers. Bayne lost his fulltime ride in the middle of the 2018 season with Matt Kenseth climbing aboard in an advisory role. When Ryan Newman was able to improve the results of the No. 6 in 2019, it left Stenhouse on the hot seat and his performance was not strong enough to hang onto his job.
Roush Fenway Racing exercised an option on Chris Buescher’s contract, bringing him back into the organization where he was a developmental driver and opening a ride at JTG-Daugherty Racing. Stenhouse landed there and that is going to brightly shine a spotlight on Stenhouse once more.
The question on everyone’s mind is this: can Stenhouse outperform Buescher? Last year Stenhouse was 23rd in the standings; Buescher was 20th. JTG was improving with Buescher behind the wheel – having one of their better seasons, but if Stenhouse is not capable of keeping that forward momentum, it will reflect badly.
Over the past three seasons, Stenhouse has recorded progressively worse results with an average finish of 17.1 in 2017, 19.4 in 2018, and 20.5 last year. He was 13th in the points in 2017, 18th in 2018, which was followed by last year’s 23rd – his worst outing since 2015.
The reason to be hopeful is because men with their back to a wall tend to fight hard. While there is a long list of bad things that could happen if Stenhouse is not able to perform up to standards, he has a goal of 18th each week. That was Buescher’s average finish for the season (actually 17.8).
Stenhouse finished better than 18th in 17 races last year and he was 18th once.
Of the 18 times he finished worse, Stenhouse was slowed or sidelined by accidents eight times. Only two of those crash-marred races came in the aero-restricted superspeedway lotteries where one is expected to wreck.
Stenhouse’s other accidents occurred at Indy, Pocono, Bristol, Dover, Texas, and New Hampshire. He has his fate in his hands, but he cannot afford to push too hard and crash on non-plate tracks in 2020. Including a few races when the team fixed the damage and helped him finish in the top 20, Stenhouse had 10 incident-filled races and that ranked him fifth-worst on that chart.
Three Best Tracks
Talladega (13.9 in 14 attempts)
Bristol (14.4 in 14)
Chicagoland (17.3 in 7)
Three Worst Tracks
Indy (28.0 in 7)
Charlotte Roval (27.0 in 2)
Martinsville (27.0 in 14)
Victories: None (Best finish = fourth, Daytona 2)
Top-fives: 1 (.028)
Top-10s: 3 (.083)
Top-15s: 12 (.333)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 24 (66.7%)