The 2019 season is one Ricky Stenhouse Jr will never forget. It’s a season that resulted in bad luck, disappointment and, in the end, came with the biggest surprise of his career, one that ended a 12-year relationship.
Stenhouse entered his seventh full-time Cup Series season in 2019. The team was looking to bounce back from a year during which it missed the playoffs and failed to capitalize on opportunities for better finishes. It was his third year paired with veteran crew chief Brian Pattie and hopes were high that Stenhouse could make the playoffs and be a legit contender in the 2019 season.
Roush Fenway Racing made a big change over the off-season that resulted in a new teammate for Stenhouse, adding driver Ryan Newman to the organization. Newman’s veteran leadership and engineering background was expected to be an asset for the entire organization. Roush had struggled in recent years and the addition of Newman was expected to help turn the organization around.
Stenhouse started his season doing exactly what he needed to do to make the playoffs. Always known as a solid superspeedway racer, he finished runner-up in his duel race and led 16 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500. He got caught up in an accident, but in the wreck-filled event, Stenhouse survived and finished 13th.
A sixth-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a few weeks later gave him his first top 10 of the year, and after six races, he was 12th in the standings and looked like a sure bet to make the playoffs.
Then his season took a nosedive.
Inconsistency and bad luck plagued the team for the rest of the regular season. It began at the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, when in the opening stages, Stenhouse got into the back of Kyle Busch in an accordion-type accident. It resulted in significant damage to the No. 17 car and it finished 33rd.
That kind of luck would creep up all season long. Another example was in July at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The No. 17 came into the race needing a good points day. Pattie decided to play some strategy and stay out late in a stage in an attempt to gain stage points. Unfortunately, contact between Stenhouse and Erik Jones cut a tire on the No. 17 and it slammed the outside wall, resulting in a 36th-place finish and leaving the team 20th in the standings, 33 points out of the playoffs.
With just six races to go until the cutoff, the team was now in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. That win never came as inconsistency plagued the team. By the time September rolled around it was clear that Stenhouse would miss the playoffs.
Around the same time, whispers began about Stenhouse’s future and possibly being replaced at Roush. His contract with the organization was through the 2021 season and both sides had confirmed that that was the case. Still, the rumors persisted.
Later in the month it turned out that the rumors were true. Roush announced that Stenhouse was going to be replaced with Chris Buescher for the 2020 season. Buescher had previously raced for Roush in the Xfinity Series and at one time was loaned to JTG Daugherty Racing with the understanding he was still under contract with the organization. There was a clause in Buescher’s contract that stated if he didn’t have a contract signed by a certain date, Roush could exercise the option and bring him into the organization, and that’s exactly what it did.
It ended a 12-year relationship between Stenhouse and Roush going back to the ARCA Menards Series. For the first time in his career, Stenhouse was a free agent. Stenhouse’s future past 2019 was murky, but there were still eight races left on the schedule for 2019.
The bad luck and inconsistency that caused issues for the team for most of the year seemed to stop right after the announcement. The No. 17 finally put some decent finishes together, with a run of six straight top-20 finishes and jumping from 23rd to 21st in the standings. It wasn’t much, but after a 14-race stretch without consecutive top 20s, it was clear the team had stopped the bleeding.
Also, during that six-week stretch the question of Stenhouse’s NASCAR future was answered. After initial rumors had him going to several different organizations, he ended up signing a contract to drive for JTG in 2020 and beyond.
The announcement naturally led to some speculation about Stenhouse and Buescher possibly swapping rides before season’s end, but both organizations quickly but those rumors to bed and both drivers stayed in their respective rides for the remainder of the season. Stenhouse finished the year out with back to back 19th-place finishes and finished 23rd in the standings.
It was a tough season final season for Stenhouse at Roush, but a change of scenery is set for 2020.
Although it was announced in October that he was going to JTG in 2020, the car he was going to drive remained a mystery. In December the team tweeted that Stenhouse will drive the No. 47 Chevrolet, and last season’s Rookie of the Year contender, Ryan Preece, will drive the team’s No. 37 entry in 2020.
Overall the 2019 season was a disappointment for Stenhouse. The expectations were to make the playoffs and the lack of consistency is what ultimately cost the team a playoff spot. Heading into the 2020 season, Stenhouse will have a new outlook, but the expectations will be the same. Making the transition to a new team a bit easier for him in that he will have a familiar face turning the wrenches on his car as crew chief Pattie made the trek over with Stenhouse from Roush.
For the first time in his NASCAR career, Stenhouse will not be driving a Roush car in 2020. However, the No. 37 was a very competitive team in 2019 including an impressive streak of 16 consecutive races with a top-20 finish. If some of that success finds its way to the No. 47 team in 2020, Stenhouse should be a contender to make the playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series.
36 starts, no wins, one top five, three top 10s.
Best Finish: 5th (Charlotte, spring)
Point Standings: 23rd
Season Grade: C-