Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And the JTG is a perfect fit—and it showed up at the Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FL — Over a morning cup of coffee with his wife on Sunday, Tad Gescheker shared something. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner felt his driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He would win the Daytona 500 later that day. That was the same thinking he had before the August 2014 race at Watkins Glen when JTG won its only NASCAR Cup Series race with then-driver AJ Allmendinger.

Normally, the feeling Gesheketer was feeling Sunday morning would warrant an immediate trip to a nearby medical facility. The harsh truth is that most weeks, JTG, which is owned by the Geschickters and retired NBA player Brad Dougherty, simply isn’t a team whose owner can confidently state that his team can win.

“I was up at 3:30 walking around thinking about the day, and when Tad wakes up, I’m making coffee, and he says, ‘We’re going to win today,’” said Jody Gechecter. “I said, ‘Do you really think that?’” He said, “I do.” I feel it. I feel like we’re going to win today.” We prepare every week, and sometimes you know when you get a chance better than others, but Tad really felt it.

But here at Daytona International Speedway, Tad Gesheker’s feeling can’t be turned into foolish optimism. Daytona represents the style of racing where Stenhouse is at its best. He is one of NASCAR’s elite talents at drafting tracks, where his ability to understand the nuances of running in a big, horse-restricted motorized pack makes him a perennial contender. Both of his career victories have come on such ovals, winning the 2017 spring race at Talladega Superspeedway and then, a few months later, the summer race at Daytona. She’s racked up other close wins since then, including last year’s Daytona 500.

“Ricky has the mentality of knowing when to push, when to attack,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s American vice president of performance and motorsports. “He just has the sense of knowing how to get to the front in these races.”

Living up to Geschickter’s confidence, Stenhouse took JTG’s biggest win by winning in overtime to win the longest Daytona 500 in history. He was narrowly ahead of second-place finisher Joey Logano on the final lap when the caution came out for a crash with several cars behind him.

All three of Stenhouse’s victories have now come in leaps and bounds, with the most recent being a career-defining type of victory. He will forever be the Daytona 500 champ, no matter what anyone else says about a largely frustrating 11-year career.

“Man, that’s unbelievable,” said Stenhouse.


Go deeper

Daytona 500 reaction: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And JTG Daugherty a big win

Like its driver, JTG has always been a team whose results rarely match its potential.

Although the team may be small, with only 45 employees on the shop floor, many around the garage think it should be better than it is. JTG has a lot going for it, though, with a workforce that lags far behind the hundreds of employees on the payroll at the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, or Team Penske.

“One hundred percent, I agree with you that they didn’t fulfill the potential, in any way for anyone or any one thing,” said Mike Kelly, Stenhouse’s chief of staff. “That’s why when last year they asked me to do it, it was one of the reasons I did it, because I saw the potential.

“This team gives us everything we need. I’ll say it again. Since I’ve been here for three or four years, they haven’t said no once. We have a state of the art facility; we have CNC shops; we have hook machines. We have the parts and pieces.”

JTG also has a strong partnership with Kroger, one of the few major sponsors in the sport committed to the entire Cup schedule. The bond between the team and sponsor goes back nearly two decades, and is one of the longest current sponsorship agreements.

And JTG is not without resources. Geschickters are recognized for constantly injecting money into the team in their pursuit of success. When first visiting JTG’s shop before signing with them starting in the 2020 season, Stenhouse recalled how he didn’t know what to expect after coming from the larger Roush Fenway Racing.

“Honestly, I was surprised by the amount of cool equipment and how they managed things and how much of a car they actually made,” said Stenhouse. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure what it would look like.”

So why has JTG only won two Cup races since it was formed in 2009? It is a question without a definite answer.

Some critics point out the lack of the right personnel in the right roles. Some cite a Stenhouse driver who tends to push too hard, leading to frequent crashes. And there’s also just the NASCAR ecosystem, where mediocre teams like JTG stand little chance of consistently competing against giants like Hendrick, Penske, and JGR. After all, the last single-car team to win the Daytona 500 was Wood Brothers Racing in 2011 while a single-car team last won the championship in 1994 (Richard Childress Racing).

“The competition in this series is fierce and serious, and we are delighted to have the partners and sponsors that we have,” said Jodi Geschickter. “But it’s a battle and it’s a battle, and it’s hard. Not for lack of effort. We got really close.”

NASCAR’s turnaround period presents an excellent opportunity for JTG to finally shake off the underachievement mark.

Introducing the next-generation car last year was with the idea that smaller teams would have a better chance of competing as each car is built using the same parts and bits from an outside supplier. This has proven to be the case with 19 different drivers achieving the points race winning record in 2022, seven of which have been earned by mid-tier organizations Legacy Motor Club, 23XI Racing, Trackhouse Racing and RFK Racing. If they can all win, so must JTG, which has increased support from Chevrolet this season.

But when JTG went another season without a win while Stenhouse struggled mightily, finishing 26th in points in a contract year, some wondered if JTG should make a change. To their credit, the Geschickters never wavered in their commitment to Stenhouse, believing he was the right driver for their team.

“We haven’t given up on Ricky because personally I feel like he has the spirit of a winner and I love what he stands for as a person,” said Judy Gechecter. “I see flashes of intelligence in what he’s doing. I felt he could do it. I felt he could get the job done, and I never questioned that.”

This is the era of NASCAR where the Cup schedule is more balanced, and no longer dominated by a specific type of track. Therefore, a driver with a specialized skill set—whether it’s superspeedway or road course—now has more opportunities to show their abilities during the regular season, with a win essentially ensuring the driver’s playoff eligibility.

For a team like JTG, just making the playoffs constitutes a successful season. And since their only viable way is to win, it makes sense to put a driver in their car who races at breakneck speeds since they have five chances during the regular season to realistically win (two races each at Daytona and Atlanta, and another at Talladega).

“There are some guys who are better at certain tracks,” said Ernie Cobb, JTG’s Director of Competition. “And highways are definitely a Ricky thing.”

Stenhouse on Sunday showed this by picking up a momentous win hours from the end. Geshekter never came to terms with the enormity of it, only to say over and over how “inconceivable” the whole thing was.

Stenhouse may not be a perfect fit for every team, but he’s the perfect driver for JTG. There is no longer any doubt about that.

(Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Related posts