By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was a superb effort for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon, who finished fourth and eighth respectively in Thursday’s Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each scored their first top-10s since the second race of the season at Las Vegas three months ago and credited their crew chiefs for a job well done.
Thursday’s stellar performances were much needed results as they’ve struggle to put a full race together where their speed is proven following their standout race.
More so for Stenhouse, who’s had an abysmal start to his first year at JTG Daugherty Racing. The man who entered 24th in points made it real clear that he can put a whole race where his aggressive yet rapid driving style would pay off on a non-superspeedway.
Stenhouse showed it right out of the gate after finishing sixth in Stage 1, but the next stage wasn’t up to par as he wound up 13th. Luck would change once the final stage really got going.
During the final 59 laps of green flag competition when he put his No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the absolute limit, blasting by Kurt Busch and Joey Logano to move up into the top-five.
From there, the 2020 Daytona 500 pole sitter kept moving up the leaderboard and ran as high as third when he passed the waning Kevin Harvick with 20 to go.
However, a shot of equaling or improving his season-best result from Vegas wasn’t meant to be as Denny Hamlin would get by him and Ryan Blaney to finish runner-up behind race winner Chase Elliott.
Stenhouse crossed the line in fourth for his second top-five of 2020 and improved his personal best finish at Charlotte by one spot. In just eight races, he’s already scored more top-fives than he did a year ago when his lone top-five came in the Coca-Cola 600.
“That was a really solid night for our Kroger Camaro ZL1 1LE. I knew we had good speed in our car from the Coca-Cola 600 the other night, we just weren’t able to put the whole race together. We worked really well together and I was happy with the handling the majority of the night,” Stenhouse comparing his two races at Charlotte.
“Brian (Pattie, crew chief) made some really good adjustments that allowed us to make passes and make aggressive moves to gain track position and hold it during the final green flag run. This is exactly the type of momentum we need heading into one of my favorite tracks – Bristol Motor Speedway – this Sunday.”
It’s only the second time in JTG Daugherty Racing’s history where they’ve scored two top-fives in a single season. The only occurrence happened in 2009 when Marcos Ambrose scored four.
Stenhouse also moved up four spots in the regular season championship standings, 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson who holds the 16th and final playoff spot.
For Dillon, it was nothing but consistency as he remained in the top-10 mix all race long. Much like he was in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 until a late-race collapse saw him score a disappointing 14th place finish and dethroned by his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick, who finished eighth.
Dillon said Sunday that his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Camaro has the pace of doing well once the 208-lap race commences.
“We’ll turn it around. We have good cars,” Dillon following Sunday’s race extended 607.5-mile race. “We can prove that we run up front, we just need to get those finishes.”
The 2017 Coke 600 winner indeed turned it around with a pair of seventh-place stage results that got him a grand total of eight stage points.
From there, it was a matter of avoiding trouble which he quietly accomplished as Thursday marked his first Charlotte top-10 since his maiden Cup Series win. Reddick wound up 14th as the third stage proved to be a struggle for the rookie points leader.
“Eighth place – it’s what we deserved in the Coca-Cola 600 too. It’s crazy you run 900 miles and we were an eighth-place car all 900 miles of it I feel like. But we had spurts where we were really fast, top-five at times,” Dillon on his top-10 finish.
“Justin (Alexander, crew chief), the pit crew, my spotter Brandon (Benesch), everybody did a great job. It was fun; fun on the restarts. I was just a little too free tonight. It was good on the long runs because it was free, but the first ten laps if you don’t get going, you lose a couple of spots and you’re done. We needed to have a little better take off speed.
“We’ll keep working. Bristol’s next – loving all these miles in a short period of time. It’s a lot of fun!”
Dillon’s eighth-place finish propelled him from 18th to 15th in points going into Bristol Motor Speedway for the running of the Food City Presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 May 31.
Live coverage of Sunday’s race in “Thunder Valley” begins at 3:30 pm EST on FS1. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.