Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Roush Fenway Racing have been showing signs of improvement since the drop of the green flag in February at Daytona International Speedway. In eight of 11 races in 2017, the No. 17 Ford Fusion team has scored top 15 finishes, including a win just over a week ago at Talladega Superspeedway.
Before the win at Talladega, Stenhouse says he was already feeling good about their season. “I was feeling really good about our season before the win,” said Stenhouse at Kansas Speedway. “That win just put us over the top of how we feel but we know that we still have a job to do and that is to continue to make this organization better and our cars better and not make mistakes.”
The team feels like they could get better at 1.5-mile tracks – which make up most of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The series visited four of those tracks thus far. However, despite feeling they need to improve at those facilities, Stenhouse has captured three top 15 finishes through four 1.5-mile oval visits.
“We know where we need to get better. The short tracks have been really good to us this year and we feel really good there,” Stenhouse continued. “The speedways, we showed at Talladega we had a lot of speed in qualifying and the race. We know we need to get better on the fast, smooth tracks like Las Vegas, Texas and here. We had a good practice session and didn’t really worry too much about qualifying, just trying to build a notebook for the next time we come back. I think for us we are feeling really good with our Go Bowling Ford this weekend.”
During the offseason coming into 2017, Roush Fenway racing downsized from a three-car operation to a two-car operation with Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne. Stenhouse says that the downsizing goes both ways.
“I think right now where we are good is the people that we put in place and the things we worked on in the off season,” said Stenhouse. “That said, I think it is easier to get everything done to our two cars versus doing them to three. There were times last year that we had some updates that we couldn’t get into all three cars. We had to kind of pick and choose. It is nice now knowing that if they find something early in the week that we can get it in the cars for the weekend and it will be in both of them. I do think that has been a help and I hope it helps us continue to make progress through the season where last year we started out okay but didn’t maintain that throughout the rest of the season.”
With the win at Talladega, marking his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Stenhouse spoke about the response he received back home in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
“It was cool. The governor called me and invited me to lunch down in Jackson (Mississippi) and hopefully I can get there and do that sometime,” continued Stenhouse during a press conference at Kansas Speedway last Friday. “It is cool to have a lot of friends. I saw some old teachers send out some things on social media, teachers of mine in classes when I was growing up. Just to have all your friends, people you race with at home, super proud of you. It was really cool. They know this was my biggest win of my career and toughest one. It was cool to see the response and made me feel really good.”
Stenhouse was happy to have his father on hand with him at Talladega Superspeedway to witness his first win in NASCAR’s premier series. The 29-year old driver says that his father received a lot of calls and texts and even people stopping by his residence to offer their congrats.
“Him to be at my first win was super emotional for him. I was really glad to have him there,” said Stenhouse. “He told me that he was having to charge his phone probably two or three times a day with everyone calling to congratulate him. I think that is one of the things he loved about the win, being able to talk to people that helped us race sprint cars and sponsored us there and helped him throughout his career. I think he wants to go to every race now.”
The two-time XFINITY Series champion goes into Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend sitting 13th in points. The team has captured three top five and five top 10 finishes through 11 races this year. With only one DNF on the season, Stenhouse holds an average finish of 13.8 and an average start of 14.2.