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Major Strategy Calls Net Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. A Top-Five at Iowa

Stenhouse, a three-time Xfinity winner at Iowa, scored his second top-five of 2024 courtesy of two major strategy decisions by crew chief Mike Kelley.


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When the smoke cleared following Sunday’s inaugural NASCAR Cup Series event at Iowa Speedway, it was the two-tire strategy call, made by Team Penske crew chief Jonathan Hassler with 88 laps to go, that aided defending champion Ryan Blaney in scoring his first win of 2024.

Hassler wasn’t the only crew chief to make that call, though – which at the time, considering the number of tire issues throughout the weekend, seemed quite bold. Paul Wolfe and Mike Kelley, working with Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. respectively, also made that same call.

For the JTG Daugherty Racing driver, the decision to take right-side tires wasn’t even the most aggressive strategy call of the afternoon. During the second stage, when Daniel Hemric caused a caution during green-flag stops, Stenhouse was left on the track with 100-lap-old tires, to prevent several heavy-hitters from taking the wave around.

Obviously, that decision didn’t result in stage points, with the No. 47 dropping back to 13th by the end of the second stage, but it did allow for the Olive Branch, Mississippi native to remain on the lead lap and in the fight for a solid result.

Fast-forward to the final pit stop of the afternoon, with 88 laps to go, and Stenhouse keeping himself on the lead lap allowed Mike Kelley to swing for the fences once again, putting two right-side tires on the NOS Energy Drink-sponsored Chevrolet, and mirroring the strategy of the Team Penske teammates, Blaney and Logano.

Until the one-two punch of bold strategy calls, Stenhouse hadn’t made much progress towards the front half of the pack, first a result of a poor qualifying result, and more so in the early portion of the event because of problems on pit lane.

Despite having those problems early in Sunday’s 350-lap contest, Stenhouse said post-race that he felt pretty good about the raw speed in his race car from the start of the event and had confidence in what it would be able to do, despite starting second to last.

“That first run and starting at the back, we were strong late in that run. So, I felt confident in what our NOS Energy Drink Camaro could do throughout this whole race,” Stenhouse said post-race. “We had a little mishap on pit road that set us back again, to kind of that back row. So, we had to battle back from that.”

The confidence in the speed of his vehicle was pretty well demonstrated in the race’s final 140-lap stage, as Stenhouse, a three-time Xfinity Series winner at Iowa Speedway, was able to flex his muscle around the 0.875-mile short track in Newton, Iowa, and advance as high as second, before losing spots at the tail-end of the run, finishing fifth behind Blaney, Byron, Elliott, and Bell.

“Those guys cleaned it up on pit road, and we had great strategy with those two tires to get us back to clean air at the front of the field,” Stenhouse added. “Really wanted to go battle [Ryan] Blaney there. We got to second, just got a little loose, and couldn’t hold those guys off. Really cool to do a Cup race here in Iowa after all our success and to do it in front of a great crowd.”

Sunday’s top-five result at Iowa was a big step in the right direction for both Stenhouse and JTG Daugherty Racing this season, who secured just their second top-five finish of 2024. It’s also the team’s first top-five on a paved, non-drafting oval since finishing second at Dover in 2022.

Stenhouse sits 25th in regular-season points, nearly 150 points below the cutline, with nine races until the Playoffs. Therefore, it’s pretty much a must-win situation for the driver of the No. 47, should he want to qualify for the post-season for a second straight year.

With bold strategy calls like those made by Mike Kelley on Sunday, though, a victory by the way of strategy isn’t out of the question.

Photo Credit: Chris Owens, HHP for Chevy Racing

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