What an interesting situation that will take place in the 2020 season. Two drivers will literally swap rides. We’ve seen it a few times. Back in the 1990s, Jeremy Mayfield and John Andretti literally swapped rides and they were always compared to each other the year after it happened.
The same will be done with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher. Buescher will drive the No. 17 Ford in 2020, and Stenhouse will pilot a Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing, whether that be the No. 37 or No. 47. That begs the question, who will have the better season?
Stenhouse Will Shine with Change of Scenery
Stenhouse Jr.’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career has been a bit of a disappointment so far. In his seven full seasons at Roush Fenway Racing, he has registered just two victories and has never finished better than 13th in the points standings.
However, there is no doubt of the man’s pure talent to drive a racecar. His talent was discovered when he raced winged sprint cars. His success there led him to RFR, where he began racing for the organization in 2008. If you can handle a winged sprint car, you’re an extremely talented racecar driver.
During Stenhouse’s Cup tenure at Roush, the team has taken a nose dive, winning just twice since the 2015 season. Both of those wins came via Stenhouse at superspeedway events. Stenhouse has proven that he has what it takes to win races when given the right car.
He joined the Cup Series after back-to-back championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, proving his talent once again. Stenhouse was set to become the next big thing at the organization when things out of his control went crazy.
He has had four different crew chiefs in his seven years at Roush, including Scott Graves, Mike Kelley, Nick Sandler and Brian Pattie. That’s been part of the problem. Roush has completely revamped its organization and has been in a transition period over the last few years. That’s why Stenhouse wasn’t winning races and running up front — not because he doesn’t have talent.
There’s no doubt of Stenhouse’s talent — it’s just a matter of finding the right situation for him. Sometimes a change of scenery brings out the best in a driver. Look at what a change of scenery did for Joey Logano. He had a rough time at Joe Gibbs Racing before being hired at Team Penske and he has taken off since, winning a championship last season.
I believe Stenhouse could have the same fate. Plus, the No. 37 car has had raw speed all season long, and I don’t expect that to change. JTG Daugherty Racing has a strong alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, with HMS providing engines and chassis to the organization.
That alliance will continue in 2020, and if Chevrolet gets a new front nose for the Camaro, that should make it a more competitive season for all involved. Can you imagine someone with Stenhouse’s talent driving a Hendrick Motorsports engine and chassis for an entire season? It would be a major win for that organization.
I believe Stenhouse will be the driver who will perform better because he’s in arguably the best situation he’s been in in his entire career. It will be a match made in heaven for both parties. – Clayton Caldwell
Buescher Will Best Stenhouse Jr.
Buescher will have a better 2020 than Stenhouse Jr. because he is steadily becoming a better driver. Outside of when Buescher won his lone Cup Series race in 2016, Buescher has improved his points position over each of the last three seasons. He currently is 20th in the points standings, his best season with JTG Daugherty Racing.
Additionally, Buescher has made strides this season, whereas Stenhouse Jr. has regressed over the past three seasons. Buescher has four top 10s, a third of his career top 10s, whereas Stenhouse Jr.’s top 10s have declined since 2017.
Why will he continue that trend in 2020? Roush Fenway Racing is a better opportunity for him. At RFR, Buescher will be teammates with Ryan Newman, who made the playoffs this season. Newman making the playoffs was the final straw for Roush with Stenhouse Jr., as the team realized it has good equipment, but Stenhouse Jr. was not the best driver to give the No. 17 team the opportunity to make the playoffs. But Buescher is.
Having Newman as his teammate will greatly help Buescher. Newman will be the first Cup Series teammate Buescher has had who has won on a track other than a superspeedway or a road course. Buescher can learn a great deal from Newman.
This season, Buescher was the veteran at JTG Daugherty Racing, a role he should not hold yet in his career. He has only four top-five finishes. He needs a veteran to mentor him on racing at the many different racetracks — Newman will be a terrific teammate for Buescher.
Comparatively, Buescher and Stenhouse Jr. are not that far apart as drivers. Both have finished 28 races this season, but Buescher has bested Stenhouse Jr. in some important categories. Buescher has finished on the lead lap in 19 races this season, three more than Stenhouse Jr. Those three races indicate Buescher has made less mistakes and is closer to jumping up into the next rung of drivers, those on the fringe of battling for a playoff spot.
Buescher is 27 years old, whereas Stenhouse Jr. is 32. For Stenhouse Jr., the change in scenery may inject some life into his career, but is JTG ready to make the leap to becoming a contending team?
Ryan Preece has nearly finished his rookie season, and it has been underwhelming. He is only two points ahead of fellow rookie Daniel Hemric, who lost his Cup Series ride after this season, but Preece retains his ride. Conceivably, questions arise about the expectations level of JTG.
Roush won championships with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch and has a long winning history. The team expects drivers to compete for playoff berths. What are the expectations for JTG? Not to the caliber of RFR.
Frankly, I do not even think Stenhouse Jr. was the best candidate for the open JTG ride. I think the better candidates were either Brett Moffitt or Ross Chastain. Both have won in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, have some Cup Series experience and are hungry to continue their winning ways. Their drive could have pushed JTG to a higher level.
Instead, it settled on a driver who has only won on superspeedways in the Cup Series. Although Buescher won in a rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway, he has a brighter future ahead of him.
Buescher is only 24 points ahead of Stenhouse Jr. in the point standings, but Buescher has one statistic over his career which is noteworthy and a beacon of hope for Roush Fenway Racing. In all his full-time Cup Series seasons, Buescher has improved upon his qualifying position. If Roush Fenway Racing gives him a fast No. 17 Ford for qualifying, Buescher can race for top-15 finishes. Add in a good race at a superspeedway or an excellent race at his best track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Buescher can contend for a playoff berth.
Buescher will have a team with higher expectations, a seasoned teammate and good equipment in 2020. What about Stenhouse Jr.? A team which has never won on a track outside of a road course and is regularly featured in The Underdog House and a teammate in his second season.
You do the math: Buescher will best Stenhouse Jr. in 2020. – Mark Kristl
About the author
Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.