NASCAR’s most underrated driver through 5 races

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JTG Daugherty Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JTG Daugherty Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Through five races on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, one driver known for making headlines has himself quietly positioned in a playoff spot.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is off to quite an interesting start, with several unexpected winners and no driver with more than one win through the first five race weekends. Even the Busch Clash and the two Daytona 500 Bluegreen Vacations Duels qualifying races were won by three different drivers.

But not everybody has been flashy in getting the job done, and that goes for one driver in particular as the series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.

This driver has been known for making headlines for the wrong reasons over the last several years, so much so that he has earned himself a crash-based nickname as a spin, no pun intended, on his first name.

He has just one career playoff appearance in his first eight seasons of competition, and that came as a result of two regular season wins.

Yet through five races, he has himself positioned to make the playoffs on points, sitting in 16th place in the standings despite having not yet scored a single stage point.

That driver is JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse has not been too flashy, with a top finish of only 11th place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But when your go-to nickname for critics is “Wrecky” Stenhouse Jr., sometimes it’s better not to be flashy too flashy.

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While he hasn’t finished higher than 11th place, he also hasn’t finished lower than 18th. Only two other drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, can make that claim, and they sit in the top two in the point standings.

That seven-position range is the smallest among full-time drivers, and as a result, his average finish ranks 11th in the series at 14.4. He has completed 1,114 laps of the 1,116 laps contested this season.

In his first season behind the wheel of the #47 Chevrolet last year, Stenhouse showed several flashes of speed and potential. He finished in third place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and fourth at Charlotte Motor Speedway, two intermediate tracks where the JTG Daugherty Racing team haven’t been known to run well.

But he was as inconsistent as they come. In the 23 races after his second place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, he never finished higher than 10th, and he finished in the top 20 only 12 times with only three other finishes inside the top 30.

Will Stenhouse continue his solid, underrated start to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway? The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is set to be broadcast live on Fox this afternoon beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET.

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He has finished between 10th and 18th in his last five starts at the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) oval in Hampton, Georgia, so he is well-positioned to continue that trend.