Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on pit-crew swap with No. 17 team: 'It's a bummer'

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is heading to Talladega Superspeedway with a new pit crew in tow — the former wrench wielders for Chris Buescher’s No. 17 RFK Racing Ford.

JTG Daugherty Racing, which fields Stenhouse’s No. 47 Chevrolet, signed a two-year deal with RFK Racing to operate and provide its pit crews for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Stenhouse told on Friday. A stellar performance by the No. 47 group at Martinsville saw new front tire changer Jakob Prall join tire carrier Zach Yager, rear changer Dalton Leonard, jackman Nicholas Patterson and fueler Arinze Obi average the sixth-fastest four-tire pit stops last weekend at 11.01 seconds, according to Racing Insights. Buecsher’s crew was 33rd-fastest at Martinsville with an average stop of 13.45 seconds.

RELATED: Talladega weekend schedule | Cup standings

The JTG group’s effort helped lead Stenhouse to an eighth-place finish at the .526-mile track, a career best in 21 starts and his third top-10 result in the last four races. But by Monday afternoon, he knew that crew would be pitting a different car at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday (3 p.m., FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“They got us a new tire changer in the front (Prall) and last week was our first week with him,” Stenhouse said Friday. “After the race, man, we were pumped at how well the guys did on pit road. … And then Monday morning, we get an email that they’re swapping.”

Obi, who has fueled the No. 47 Chevrolet all season, is the only member of Stenhouse’s Martinsville crew who remains on the car this weekend in Alabama. Coming to the team from Buescher’s No. 17 car per the NASCAR roster portal are front changer Greg Donlin, tire carrier Justin Edgell, rear changer Chris Shuman and jackman Matt Wilps.

Pit crews have always played pivotal roles in a team’s on-track success. But with the momentous change of aluminum wheels and single lug nuts on the Next Gen car — a change from the decades-long norm of steel wheels and five lugs — came even sharper emphasis on minimizing pit times.

“I think the pit crew is more crucial now than it’s ever been in our sport,” Stenhouse said. “The cars are so close. The lap times between slower cars and faster cars are not that much different. And so anytime that you can gain positions on pit road — definitely not lose positions on pit road — makes your race day so much easier.

“That’s one of the strong points that we had last weekend at Martinsville. We were really good on pit road. We didn’t lose spots. We gained spots. And anytime you can do that, especially like Martinsville, a hard place to pass, it’s so much (more) beneficial to your team. And so I don’t think there’s any year that pit crews are more important.”

Stenhouse is optimistic the newcomers at JTG will be welcomed additions to the program. But there’s still some displeasure surrounding the move itself.

“That was kind of the long-term play as to why we signed up for two years, so that you can keep your pit crew consistent,” Stenhouse said. “And it’s a bummer because we won with most of those guys at Daytona and I think they wanted to stay with us, or at least from from everything I’ve talked to them about. But I mean, it is what it is. It’s the cards we’re dealt now. Should have known that they (RFK) would have played it that way, I guess.”

Stenhouse’s history with RFK Racing dates back to 2008, driving for car owner Jack Roush in the ARCA Menards Series and collecting two wins. He moved up to the Xfinity Series on a part-time basis in 2009 and eventually claimed back-to-back championships in the division in 2011 and 2012 before moving into the Cup Series full-time in 2013.

Their relationship ended in 2019, when the organization exercised an option on Buescher’s contract to pull him from JTG Daugherty’s No. 37 Chevy into what was Stenhouse’s No. 17 Ford at season’s end, leading to what was effectively a team swap for the two drivers.

MORE: Details of Buescher’s jump to the No. 17 car

Now in his fourth season with JTG, Stenhouse still knows plenty of folks at RFK, as does crew chief Kelley. That includes the crewmen en route to their No. 47 car at Talladega.

“I know a few of those guys. I’ve worked with them. Mike Kelley’s worked with some of them,” Stenhouse said. “And I know that they’re gonna go out and prove what they got as well. So, you know, it’s not all lost other than I felt like we had a really good bond with the guys that we had, and I’m bummed for them.”