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JTG Daugherty duo looking for a bounce back in 2021

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rutledge Wood rip through the prominent schedule changes for the 2021 Cup Series season, discuss the emphasis on road courses, the return to Nashville, and who the schedule could benefit.

Entering his third NASCAR Cup season, JTG Daugherty Racing driver Ryan Preece faces potential uncertainty about his future at the sport’s top level.

As first reported last week by Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, Preece’s No. 37 Chevrolet only has funding for 24 races this season.

Additionally, it no longer has a team charter to ensure a place in the field each week. Without a charter, Preece must race his way into the Feb. 14 Daytona 500 via single-car qualifying on Feb. 10 or his Duel qualifying race on Feb. 11.

But in a Tuesday media teleconference, Preece was adamant that he felt no pressure as the season opener nears.

“I’m not stressed at all,” Preece said. “We’re going to go down, and if everything works out the way I think it’s laid out, we should qualify on speed. So, I feel pretty confident with it.”

Preece aims to recover from a 2020 season that saw just two top-10 finishes and was marred by eight DNFs, including three in the first six races.

However, he feels most of those DNFs were due to situations beyond his control.

“We had a few motor failures and a transmission break. The superspeedways killed us a couple of times. There’s not much you can do when it comes to that, but we can focus forward and try to start the year off on a strong note,” he said.

“That’s what it’s going to come down to. The first thing we have to do is show our speed and see where we stack up there.”

MORE: Daytona 500 Speedweek radio, TV schedule

Assured he’ll have the speed he needs to make the Daytona 500, Preece is focusing on his race-day strategy.

No charter for the No. 37 entry also means no owner’s points to fall back on from last season. As a result, Preece and his team’s plans will be different from what they have been before.

“I think it’s going to push us to race more for stage points when it comes to the first two stages at Daytona,” he said. “Usually if you look at years past, we’ve kind of just hung around purposefully to make sure we got to the end. But it seems like all these wrecks have been happening in the last 10 laps. So, you’re just giving away stage points.

“If you look at last year, we were negative-three points after three races due to not going after stage points, wrecking in the final laps at Daytona, a blown motor, not a good weekend at California and some penalties. We’re going try to get as many points as we can, and if we’re in position to be aggressive, then we will be aggressive. That’s what it comes down to.”

Also looking to rebound in 2021 is Preece’s teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the pole for last year’s Daytona 500.

But that race didn’t go well for him, as he was involved in several incidents and was penalized for going below the yellow line - all adding to a 20th-place finish.

For this year’s running of “The Great American Race,” Stenhouse believes he’ll have another fast No. 47 Chevrolet waiting.

“It’s just doing all those little things right and making sure we do our job,” Stenhouse said Tuesday. “Because being at JTG Daugherty Racing, you have me and Preece and that’s the only people we can count on. You can’t count on anybody else, so it’s nice to have a car capable of doing maybe things other people feel like they can’t do with their car.

“And that’s what you get when you pay attention to all those details that (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) and our team does. I’m excited to get back down there and limit those mistakes. You don’t feel like it’s a big mistake, but one little thing can take you out of contention.”

Last year’s Daytona 500 seemed to set the tone for the No. 47 team in 2020. While Stenhouse earned a handful of top-five finishes, he was plagued by misfortune and saddled with eight DNFs.

But entering his second year with JTGD, Stenhouse feels everyone is ready to build on the highs they were able to have - and fix what went wrong.

“On my side, I need to clean up my pit road mistakes, because I feel like I can count on a full hand that I felt like I gave up some really good opportunities to run well inside the top 10 at some of these race tracks from having a pit road penalty,” he said.

“We have a little bit bigger notebook than we had last year with the (Chevrolet) Camaro and these chassis, Brian (Pattie) knows what to look for and (what) we need to change going into some of these tracks that we struggled with.”