At the beginning of the season, Roush Fenway Racing did not have their program necessary where they wanted it. However, the past couple weekends have seen the organization make steady improvements.
In the previous Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been able to run in the top-10, highlighted by a fifth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600.
“I know it’s tough, but it’s nice to have runs like Kansas and being able to pass for the lead under green and not just restart up there and take the lead,” he said. “So I think that gave everybody at our place a little bit of confidence that we’ve got a car that’s capable of doing that, we just have to put all the parts and pieces together to do that every week.
“Another thing that I took from that weekend is we were not very good on Friday and we changed everything in the car and made the same chassis, the same body car with different components underneath and made it fast for racing on Saturday, so that gave me a little bit more confidence that we are building the right things, we just have to make sure we put it all together every weekend.”
Prior to those performances, Stenhouse had only posted one top-10 – sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – in the first 11 races of the season.
“I think there are times that we’ve had really, really good runs and there are times that we’ve had quite the opposite, and I think that’s the frustrating part is when you go to one race track and you’re really good, and then you go back to another race track and can’t seem to find that same speed,” he said. “I think we’re getting better at that, for sure. You always want it to be overnight, but when all the other cars and teams are trying to do the same thing and continue their path of progression, it makes that task difficult.”
Despite expressing constant frustration on the team radio through the struggles, Stenhouse remains confident in the team’s ability as he believes Roush Fenway Racing’s employees are putting in every bit of effort possible to find what they are missing. It’s easy for him to be able to do that, through RFR’s initiative to discuss what they are currently working on as part of the debrief meetings on Monday so the drivers are aware.
“I think that’s been really beneficial to let us talk about the importance of some of those things that we’re working on and then also just to know that, ‘Hey, we’re working on it,’” he said. “Like I said, it’s not from a lack of effort.”
The progress has also been shown on track, with Stenhouse showing speed at times through those first 11 events, as noted with a runner-up qualifying effort at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Just last weekend, he posted the ninth-quickest lap in time trials for the Coca-Cola 600.
“We just have to get more consistent because we have speed in our cars and we haven’t had speed on the mile-and-a-halves in a long time and this year those are by far our better race tracks, so that’s been neat to see and we’ve had some issues,” he said. “Heck, I ran into the back of the 18 (Kyle Busch) on Lap 2 at Bristol and I felt like that was the best car we had at Bristol in practice and I ruined that for us, and then you get caught in a wreck at Talladega and then we blew a right-front at Dover.”
With those disappointments currently behind him, it appears that Stenhouse is finding the momentum at the right time as we enter the summer stretch with him currently ranked 19th in points. If he can carry forward with more consistent top-10 finishes, he could possibly be one of the 16 drivers in the post-season.
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