JTG Daugherty’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece proving value in contract year


In Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece, JTG Daugherty Racing employs drivers with more value than meets the eye.

Whether that value is recognized and appreciated in contract negotiations this summer — both confirmed to NBC Sports they’re free agents after this season — will determine their short-term futures in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Stenhouse, 62 points from the playoff cutoff heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway, is earning results in a manner we haven’t seen from him in the last four years. His 17.3-place average finish is in line with his 17.1 average finish from 2017, the year of his only playoff appearance. And there’s a sense that he’s presently punching above his weight class.

With the 19th-fastest car per average median lap rank and the 15th-fastest pit crew according to median four-tire box time, Stenhouse holds a Production in Equal Equipment Rating exceeding most others in his usual running whereabouts, a range of 16th-20th place. Among eight drivers within the range, his 1.333 PEER ranks second, good enough to overcome poor restarting numbers dragging down his track position. A well-rounded profile elsewhere, present in a spider chart highlighting his team’s habits against those with nearby average running spots, assisted in maintaining his current place in the standings:

Stenhouse and his team managed finishes better than their single-race median speed rankings in each of their first eight starts this season and he is one of 18 drivers with a positive surplus pass differential on 550-horsepower tracks. There’s no guarantee JTG Daugherty will use advanced stats to evaluate its driver’s worth when deciding its plans for 2022, but Stenhouse believes he’s on a trajectory to surpass his team’s internal goals.

“I feel like we’ve actually met a lot of our goals, as far as being consistent, not making mistakes on pit road, things like that, that I felt like held us back last year,” said Stenhouse, who indicated conversations around a contract extension will begin “soon.”

In his second season with JTG Daugherty, the 33-year-old is content with his spot, bought into the team’s competitive progress.

“I believe in everything we’re doing right now, full confidence in everybody that we’re going to continue to build this race team up,” Stenhouse said. “And, you know, I don’t think we’re done this year. Our best races are in front of us.”

While Stenhouse is fighting for a playoff spot, his JTG Daugherty stablemate fights to maintain his job. Surely, it won’t be Preece’s fault if his charter-less team falls shy of making 36 starts. In January, team co-owner Brad Daugherty told Fox Sports that Preece’s car only had funding for 24 races. With an unclear future for the team in 2022, the driver needs a strong statistical showing on his résumé.

So far, Preece has performed relatively well given his team’s speed (22nd in average median lap rank) and pit crew performance (29th in median four-tire box time). He’s most regularly in the 22nd-25th running range:

Against the likes of Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Daniel Suárez and two drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing among others, Preece fares better than average in PEER, non-preferred groove restart retention rate and crash avoidance. This year’s effort follows a 2020 season in which he ranked 15th in PEER on 750-horsepower tracks and 12th in the final 10 races of the season.

Are these statistical high points enough to warrant a continued stay in the Cup Series, despite a lack of outward success in more traditional metrics? Preece isn’t sure, but he knows a boost to his team-supported stat line would help establish a more conventional argument. His top-15 finish tally (five) isn’t far removed from Stenhouse’s seven, but Preece has eight finishes of 20th or worse.

“It’s tough to say,” Preece said. “We just need to get closer to where we want to be when we unload, and I think that will just help everything.”

Preece’s performance skews towards 750-horsepower tracks again this season, though oddly in part to strong road course showings at Daytona (ninth) and COTA (15th).

“It’s weird. Ricky really shines in the 550 stuff and mile-and-a-half stuff, and I struggle,” Preece said. “I’m not comfortable right now with where the balance is for me to be able to be aggressive like he can be, but then we go to some short tracks and road courses — road course-wise, we have two top 15s, one top 10.

“Road course-wise, we’ve been pretty good and that’s not even my forte. It’s not something I’ve grown up doing. We have ‘the whole thing,’ it’s just not together for us.”

A steady diet of road courses, four more within the regular season, awaits Preece through the summer. By then, he’ll have a better indication of JTG Daugherty’s initial steps into the Next Gen era and whether that future includes him. So, too, will Stenhouse.

For both Stenhouse and Preece, success in a team game would go a long way in improving the optics of their individual performances. Stenhouse understands how he’s viewed within the free-agent market — either by JTG Daugherty or other teams — may change based on the eye of the beholder.

“We do this collectively,” Stenhouse admitted. “But obviously, I’m a big part of it. My hands are on the steering wheel.”

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.