Las Vegas Review-Journal

New day for Stenhouse, team

Surprising win at Daytona 500 is validation for owners sticking with driver

- By Jenna Fryer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — One victory in 28 years was all tiny JTG Daugherty Racing had to show for the time, sweat and money — so much money — the team had poured into trying to build a winning NASCAR organizati­on.

The team owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickte­r, as well as former NBA player Brad Daugherty, entered Season 29 still committed to a driver stuck in a losing streak that stretched nearly six years.

But they believed in Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and so did the sponsors on the No. 47 Chevrolet, which includes grocery chain Kroger, a JTG partner for more than a decade. The trick was rebuilding Stenhouse’s confidence and returning him to the level of driver who won a pair of Xfinity Series championsh­ips at the start of his NASCAR career.

Would a Daytona 500 win do the trick?

Certainly so.

Stenhouse scored just the third Cup victory of his career by winning the longest Daytona 500 in history. He won Sunday night in double overtime, under caution, to snap a losing streak that spanned 2,060 days and 199 races.

He did it with crew chief Mike Kelley, who took over leading the team during the offseason, in a reunion for the pair. Kelley was Stenhouse’s crew chief at Roush Fenway Racing for his Xfinity titles and spent one season as his Cup crew chief before stepping back into a support role the last seven seasons.

Kelley’s return to the top has been stabilizin­g for Stenhouse.

“Not winning since 2017, having struggles, ups and downs, to have somebody like Mike, who when he took over the reins as soon as the season was over, it was: ‘Hey, I know you can still get this done. We’ve just got to give you the right opportunit­ies. We know if we give you cars capable of running up front, you can do that,’” Stenhouse said. “He believes in myself more than I do, I think, and that’s huge. I feel like that’s what separates crew chiefs these days, is that team aspect and leading your guys and getting the most out of them.”

Stenhouse, 35, celebrated the win by scaling the fence at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway. Once he reached the top, Stenhouse hung and did a pair of pullups before climbing back down to collect the checkered flag.

The man from Olive Branch, Mississipp­i, then packed up his replica version of the Harley J. Earl Trophy for a late-night trip to a Daytona Beach-area Waffle House, where he sat with his new hardware on the table and wore a paper crown to mark his achievemen­t.

For the Geschickte­rs, the couple now will bring back to their North Carolina race shop only their second NASCAR trophy. And it happens to be the most important trophy in the sport.

JTG is the first single-car team since The Wood Brothers Racing in 2011 to win the Daytona 500, Jodi Geschickte­r is only the second female car owner to win the Daytona 500, and Daughtery is the first Black owner to be part of a winning Daytona effort.

Daugherty had to leave Sunday’s race early after sponsor obligation­s because the bright sun was bothering the lingering effects of recent eye surgery. But when his car went to victory lane, Jodi Geschickte­r said, Daugherty wasted no time reaching out to Michael Jordan, who like Daugherty is a part-owner of a NASCAR team.

“He said that he and Michael Jordan are already talking trash,” she said. “I’m not sure what was said, but there have been conversati­ons.” The win was such a remarkable breakthrou­gh for JTG, which in 2017 expanded to a two-car team, only to have to contract back to one car last season when it didn’t secure a charter for Ryan Preece. He elected to sit out the season and JTG has entered this year with just Stenhouse for a second consecutiv­e season.

The ownership and sponsors could have bailed on Stenhouse at any time, and the sponsors could have bailed on winless JTG, as well. But that’s not how the Geschickte­rs run their business and they haven’t been doing this nearly three decades to just give up.

“We didn’t give up on Ricky because personally, I feel like he’s got the spirit of a winner and I like what he represents as a person,” Jodi Geschickte­r said. “I see flashes of brilliance in what he does. I felt like he could do it. I felt like he could get the job done, and I never questioned that.”

JTG and Stenhouse put the work in, understand­ing they are up against the biggest and best in NASCAR for 38 weekends a year. Stenhouse, who with the Daytona 500 win qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in his career, may not be a title contender but he proved Sunday night that JTG is headed in the right direction.

“We work hard,” Jodi Geschickte­r said. “The guys do their jobs. We’re prepared. We’re prepared everyday. We don’t quit. We’re tenacious. We dig in. You get the informatio­n, you try to make good decisions, and you just don’t quit.”

 ?? Chris O’meara The Associated Press ?? Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates after winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday for his first victory in nearly six years in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Chris O’meara The Associated Press Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates after winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday for his first victory in nearly six years in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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