Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finding speed on NASCAR’s short tracks
Even during the worst stretch of this recent Roush Fenway Racing slump, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could be counted on to contend on short tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Now that the Ford mainstay is starting to regularly race with the leaders, Stenhouse is even better on short tracks, posting back-to-back top 10s for just the second time in his career at NASCAR’s highest level. Even better is that both he and teammate Trevor Bayne are 14th and 15th in the championship standings.
In fact, a case could be made that Stenhouse easily could be sitting on four straight top 10s dating back to Martinsville, and top 10s in five of the past six races overall. He finished fourth at Phoenix, 22nd at Fontana, 10th at Martinsville and 14th at Texas before posting the back-to-back top 10s. Those are playoff-caliber numbers from a team that struggled to crack the top 20 over the past two seasons.
“I think we’ve been a top-15 car on the mile-and-a-halfs,” Stenhouse said after the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday. “I think you could say we’ve been a 10th-place car on the short tracks and gambled some and had some good finishes. I think today we were a top-5 car before I wrecked it.”
He was referencing an early incident in which he slapped the wall. He believes that took some speed out of the car. Fortunately for him, driver input matters a little bit more than aerodynamics compared with an intermediate track race.
In short, Bristol and Richmond have played to the former dirt racer’s strengths.
“I like short tracks,” Stenhouse said. “The downforce, the less downforce we have, the more you can kind of play with the brakes, play with the gas and throttle and really kind of maneuver your car around a little bit more instead of it being stuck to the racetrack.
“You know, I’ve been finding a lot of success in that even if the car is not perfect, being able to change my adjustments and what I’m doing in the car to get the best out of it. It’s getting that way on intermediates for sure — even the newer paved ones, but the old ones definitely is coming into factor, too.
“We’ve just got to keep building better cars and bringing faster cars to the racetrack and putting the whole weekend together, not making mistakes.”