For a two-time Nationwide Series Champion, transitioning to the big leagues of the Sprint Cup Series should be a piece of cake, or at least that’s what people would think, but for Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a great run at Kansas is just what he needed after a tough run at Texas.
Coming off of a wreck and 40th place finish at Texas, it was clear to see that Stenhouse was geared up for the race weekend in Kansas, the same place where he won in the Nationwide Series last October. After a few practice sessions, Stenhouse’s No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion was lightning fast and an easy pick for the pole position when qualifying came around. In fact, he sat on pole until the late stages of qualifying when Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth knocked him to third, his highest qualifying start of his young Sprint Cup career.
“It feels good,’’ Stenhouse said after his qualifying run Friday. “We had a track bar break at Martinsville and cut a left-rear tire at the beginning of the Texas race, so it feels good to come here and be fast.’’
Having a great qualifying run was just the beginning of Stenhouse’s great week. In fact, all of the Roush Fenway Racing cars were fast the minute they unloaded from the trucks.
“It seems like when you roll off the truck with a fast car, you generally have that fast car throughout the weekend,” said Stenhouse, “so that’s what we’re hoping to obtain, and carry this throughout the weekend.”
When the race rolled around, Stenhouse was up front, well, for most of it. Stenhouse took the lead on lap 190 after passing teammate Carl Edwards and former driver of the No. 17 Matt Kenseth and was up front for 26 laps. With a long green flag run, teams, including Stenhouse, started making green flag pit stops. Just as he hit pit road, the caution flag flew, leaving him and others in the back of the pack.
“We pitted under green and it really got us when the caution came out,” Stenhouse said after the race, “but all in all, I think we can take a lot of positives from this weekend. We were fast in practice, fast in qualifying and made the car better through the race and that’s what it’s all about is making your car better throughout the race.”
Although the untimely pit stop and caution cost Stenhouse the chance of a win, he still battled back for an 11th place finish, tied for the best of his Sprint Cup career. His top-15 finish moved him up two spots to 18th in the point’s standings, and he is two points behind fellow Rookie of the Year competitor, and girlfriend, Danica Patrick, in Rookie standings. (Want to know how Rookie points work? Click here)