Surprisingly Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is somehow completely flying under the radar right now. His No. 47 Chevrolet has been in the top half of the field more times than not and heads to the Easter off weekend +12 points in the playoff standings after seven races. What’s odd is, the two worse finishes for him all season have been at Daytona, a track you’d think he’d have his best finish at.
Stenhouse, has been consistent everywhere else though with five straight top 13 finishes now including a runner-up in Monday’s rain delayed NASCAR Cup Series race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway.
“Yeah, we really focused on just being more consistent week in and week out,” he said following his third runner-up result in 17 career starts at Bristol. “We had some really high moments last year and some really low moments. We’re just trying to even things out, take the speed of our race cars, make sure we execute when we’re at the racetrack, when we’re in the shop, just being prepared.
“That’s starting with me, the things I do behind the wheel, the things I do off the racetrack preparing, going into the weekend, just getting that mindset going into each race that it’s one race at a time.”
Stenhouse says that they didn’t get off to the hottest start. They struggled a little bit at the 500. Then, they had a couple mistakes that cost them at the road courses.
“Really, other than that, we’ve stuck to our game plan and done everything that we’ve wanted to do and accomplish every week,” he continued.
Stenhouse was comfortable coming to Bristol though. Following finishes of 13th, 11th, 12th and 12th respectively the last four weeks, he was coming to a track that is one of his best. He’s scored two runner-up’s prior to go along with five top sixes in 16 tries. What’s remarkable is, he’s never led a lap at Bristol before and didn’t again on Monday either.
Then, throw in dirt on the track and Stenhouse could have an advantage to win.
Stenhouse, finished ninth in Stage 1, sixth in Stage 2 and restarted fourth on the final restart in overtime. When Denny Hamlin tried to make the high line work again on that ensuing restart, Stenhouse went low to pounce. He’d come to the white flag in second and narrowly lose to Joey Logano in the end.
That somewhat surprised him still to finish there.
“Coming into the Bristol dirt event, I felt like I was going to be comfortable on the racetrack,” he said. “But I felt like these are the best drivers out there. They were going to adapt, their teams were going to adapt, bring good race cars, as well. I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on, Hey, we have to go win.
“We methodically worked our way throughout this race of getting our race car better, not freaking out early in the race, knowing that the track conditions were going to change, and probably come around the balance of our race car. We did that. Got our first top 5, top 10 of the year. Trying to keep that momentum going into an off weekend and start back fresh when we get going again.”
He says part of the reason for the good finish too is his friends Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson took each other out so early. If they were there in once piece in the end, he feels like they could have easily won.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of races that change, the flows of them change, especially when different things happen throughout the race.
“They’re two of the best dirt track racers in the country, and don’t do it full-time. They had the top working really well. I don’t think they would have made the top work. There towards the end, the rubber that got down on the racetrack was just too fast around the bottom.
“But obviously they would have been contending for the win. They showed that they were really fast. So the 22 car looked good in practice. The 11, the 19 looked good in practice. I think the 99 did a phenomenal job all day just working his way up. Obviously his car was really fast, as well.
“A lot of cars kind of came and went. I felt like mine was really good. If we had 75-lap runs, I felt like we had one of the best cars. The first 15, 20 laps, I was terrible.
“Definitely things would have been totally different, no matter who was out there. The 18 obviously got off to a great start and overheated, I’m assuming, running the top.
“Yeah, they would have been battling for the win, I’m sure of it.”