As Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished the Great Clips 200 Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, coming in third, he opened a 20 point can of “Whoop Ass” on Elliot Sadler’s chances of winning the Nationwide Championship in 2012. With his probable second title in as many years, on the Nationwide Circuit, I am still wondering if he can fill the shoes left for him at the Sprint Cup level next year.
As Matt Kenseth, vacates his Rousch /Fenway seat in the #17 Ford at the end of the year, I am left pondering if the 25 year old driver from Olive Branch, Mississippi, has the talent to replace the veteran. Stenhouse has only four starts at the Sprint Cup level this year, and one of those was the Gatorade Duel at Daytona in February.
His start in the Daytona 500, resulted in a 20th place finish. After a 17th place start at Dover in September, he got his best finish of the year in twelfth place, three laps down. In his only other Cup race at Charlotte in The Bank Of America 500, he came in 35th several laps down. This is not a driver that’s ready for Prime Time.
In typical Rousch/Fenway fashion, the Cat in the Hat has not properly prepared Stenhouse for next season. He has known for several months that Kenseth would be moving to Joe Gibbs Racing at the start of the 2013 season, but he still did nothing to get his new driver some much needed seat time on the senior circuit. His stable is full, and I know he was unable to field an extra car for Stenhouse, but the other top tier teams found ways to get their young drivers expierence at this level.
Stewart Haas Racing has taken great pains to get Danica Patrick her laps in the Cup car this season as she competes in the Nationwide series, especially at tracks that have special quirks. Tony Stewart understands he can’t just throw her to wolves at Daytona next February, and expect her to be competitive. That’s exactly what Jack Rousch is going to do with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
RFR has had trouble in the past keeping sponsorship on the #17, even with a Sprint Cup Champion in the seat. He has had to run several races this year without a Primary Sponsor on the hood, and I don’t see that changing with his new driver. Even in the days when Mark Martin was competing with Jeff Gordon for championships, Rousch had trouble sponsoring the car. I always felt that was the reason Martin made a change.
Given the current landscape in Nascar, marrying the proper sponsor with the driver is key to success. Greg Biffle is a quiet reserved driver who is sponsored by 3M, which is an older more conservative company. This is a fit, as is Carl Edwards and his Aflac sponsor. Best Buy was not a good fit for Matt Kenseth, as Best Buy is an upscale high-tech business, and needs a young smooth driver like maybe a Brad Keselowski. JGR has done an excellent job in putting Kenseth together with a home improvement sponsor like Home Depot.
I’m not sure Ricky Stenhouse has the personality for a Best Buy, and can only hope Mr. Rousch can succede in providing a better package than he did with Kenseth. There are too many variables in Jack Rousch’s decision to bring Stenhouse up next season. I’m not sure he wouldn’t have been better served filling that seat with a more experienced driver, and bring Stenhouse up a little slower.
These are the decisions that keep RFR from actually being able to compete with their biggest competitor, Hendrick Motors Sports. Jack doesn’t seem to be able to think outside of the Box, and that’s why if Rousch/Fenway and Hendrick Motor Sports are top tier organizations, I would have to rate HMS as 1A, and RFR 1B.
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