Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a lucky charm. His name is Brian Pattie.
In his capacity as crew chief on Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet, Pattie often opts for contrarian strategy. That certainly was the case in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as Stenhouse built on a strong Daytona Speedweeks with a strategic third-place finish in the second NASCAR Cup Series race of the season.
Pattie repeatedly kept Stenhouse on the track during green-flag pit stop cycles, hoping for a timely caution. The gamble finally paid off when Chase Elliott hit the Turn 1 wall on Lap 220 because of a flat left rear tire.
At that point, only Stenhouse, teammate Ryan Preece and Sunoco rookie John Hunter Nemechek were on lead lap, having stayed out on the track as the rest of the field came to pit road. Stenhouse made the most of his serendipitous track position and brought the No. 47 Camaro home in third place during a wild two-lap shootout at the end of the event.
“Brian is just really good at calling races, and he apologized for that one (earlier in the race),” said Stenhouse, who led 30 laps two weeks after winning the pole position for the Daytona 500. “That one backfired on us that second run. We got good track position, and then we stayed out a little too long and gave up that track position.
“So then we were fighting kind of all race to get it back up, and he went long again, and it paid off with the caution. Our Kroger Camaro was good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we know what we need to work on now, and it was cool to get a good solid run in this Camaro for everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing.
“So far, so good. We know what we need to work on, and I know Brian and the boys will tune it up.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON SHOWS SPEED IN STRONG FIFTH-PLACE RUN AT VEGAS
Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway provided Jimmie Johnson with just the sort of consistent strong he needed after two winless seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Driving the new sleeker Camaro introduced into NASCAR’s top series this year, Johnson finished ninth in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2 and fifth in the race after surviving a chaotic restart with two laps left.
The seven-time champion was upbeat after posting his first top-five result since last year’s July race at Daytona International Speedway.
“It was a strong day,” Johnson acknowledged. “With about 15 to go or so, I got into the outside wall and lost some spots. But we didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. We put rights (right-side tires) on before that final restart. Chaos was happening in front of me and I was able to sneak through to get a top-five finish…
“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it. We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”
RYAN NEWMAN PLANS RETURN TO RACING WITH TIMETABLE TBD
Before Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the racing community got the first official statement from driver Ryan Newman since the violent crash in the Daytona 500 that has sidelined him from the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
After expressing profuse thanks to well-wishers from all quarters of the industry and to those who treated him at Halifax Medical Center, Newman gave the first indication of the injuries he had suffered during the last-lap crash at Daytona, where his car flipped upside-down in the path of the oncoming car of Corey LaJoie.
“I was fortunate to avoid any internal organ damage or broken bones,” Newman said. “I did sustain a head injury for which I’m currently being treated. The doctors have been pleased with my progression over the last few days.
“Again, I want to thank each of you, from my partners, teammates and competitors and each and every fan across the country. Thank you everyone for the unparalleled concern and unwavering support. And to the media, who has acted with such respect and class during this time.
“I have spoken with Jack Roush and he has assured me that the No. 6 car will be waiting and ready for my return. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel and battling for another race win in the Roush Fenway Ford.”
Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark indicated Newman’s return would involve a systematic process.
“The first thing I would say is that I’m thankful that we’re actually even able to have this dialogue about that question, because that was not something any of us were certain about when this happened, so it’s a great conversation to be having.
“The reality is there are three groups that are going to dictate when he returns because he has expressed unequivocally that this is where he wants to be and he wants to be back in a race car. Those three groups are going to be Ryan and his family, his doctors, and then NASCAR and their medical team. Our assumption is once all three of those sign off, then we’ll see him back in a race car.”