Just when it seemed JTG-Daugherty Racing was steadily heading in the right direction, they were thrown a curveball.
Toward the end of 2019 they learned they would lose their veteran driver Chris Buescher and all of the hard work that went into creating chemistry between the driver and team was lost. They would have to start over – just as they have done throughout their history.
JTG-Daugherty Racing has distinguished their tenure NASCAR with a certain type of driver.
In 2008 they picked up the Australian V8 Supercar Series star Marcos Ambrose who ran his first full seasons with this organization. He left them for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011, at which point they signed the veteran Bobby Labonte, who was nearing the end of his career.
In 2014, AJ Allmendinger split the driving duties with Labonte and then took over the full time ride for the next five years. One of NASCAR’s freshest faces, Allmendinger gave the team their only win in 2014 on the road course of Watkins Glen.
JTG-Daugherty Racing expanded to two cars in 2017 with a driver who was under contract with Roush Fenway Racing. Buescher had been racing for Front Row Motorsports in 2016 under an affiliate agreement and slotted into the No. 37 Ford seamlessly. He scored four top-10s for JTG in 2017 and had two top-fives in 2018.
Last year, he gave the team another four top-10s. It was not so much the number of top-10s he recorded, but where they came that made this such an important season.
Buescher was solid on the 1.5-mile tracks that are the bread and butter of the NASCAR schedule. He scored a ninth at Atlanta, 10th at Kansas 1, sixth at the Charlotte oval, and 10th at Kentucky. That put him back on the radar screen of Roush at a time when they were becoming increasingly disillusioned with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Buescher’s developmental contract with Roush was about to run out, so they acted quickly and exercised his option.
For JTG-Daugherty Racing, this could not have happened at a worse time. Gambling heavily on new drivers or mild-mannered veterans whose prime was in the past, they were finally set to contend with a driver who was in the sweet spot. Buescher had four seasons under his belt; three of which came with his current organization.
It finally seemed as if JTG-Daugherty Racing were on an upward trajectory that would make them one of the best mid-pack teams. In 2019 they signed a promising rookie in Ryan Preece, but he needed (and still needs) experience before he can lead the team into consistent top-10 contention.
Buescher was beginning to provide that consistency. He was developing chemistry with his team, was happy with his situation, and believed this would be a long term place to race. All of that went away in the blink of an eye when he was one of the last to find out that he was being recalled by RFR.
Buescher’s last top-10 finish came in Week 19 of the 36-race schedule.
The disruption will continue to have ripple effects into the 2020 season. While Roush has been slipping in recent seasons, they still make incredible horsepower. Unfortunately Stenhouse was unable to utilize it and earned only three top-10s in 2019. Two of these came on 1.5-mile tracks in Week 3 at Las Vegas and Week 13 at Charlotte. Stenhouse would earn one more top-10 in the fall, but that came on the aero-restricted superspeedway where luck plays a dominant role.
In what essentially became a driver swap, Stenhouse landed at JTG-Daugherty. In his eighth full time season, he is not exactly the wily veteran Labonte was. It remains to be seen if his best years are behind him after scored four top-fives each season for Roush in 2016 and 2017, plus another three in 2018.
Stenhouse has given JTG-Daugherty a top-five in the first four races of 2020. That came in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas, but it was earned after his crew chief Brian Pattie rolled the dice multiple times during the race. His courage paid dividends by trapping the majority of the field a lap off the pace. Another gamble late in the race gave Stenhouse track position that he used to his advantage.
That is the good news.
But there is a lot more bad news in the first four weeks than good. Between them, Stenhouse and Preece have amassed an average finish of only 22.38 with two DNFs and three results outside the top 25.
Currently Stenhouse has Buescher in sight in the points’ standings, but in itself that does not make him a good value.
We ranked Stenhouse 24th in the preseason handicap and he has performed a little better than anticipated. Sitting 17th in the standings, he is only four positions behind Buescher. Preece has had more than his share of trouble and ranks 33rd in points.
Stenhouse still has a lot of time to earn a few more top-fives. If these come early in the season, his confidence will rise and he will become a more predictable value. For the next several weeks after NASCAR returns, he is going to be a longshot.
In his second season, it remains to be seen what will happen with Preece, but with only one top-25 and an average finish of 28.5 fantasy owners want to approach him with caution.