Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won an extra $100,000 on Friday night and extended his championship point lead but he was still disappointed.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]After finishing third in his Fastenal Ford, Stenhouse didn’t hide the fact that he wanted more. Never leading a lap Friday night but coming close battling with the leaders like teammate Carl Edwards and eventual winner Kyle Busch, the Tennessee driver has come a long way in order to be upset with a top five finish.
“It was a great race for us,” Stenhouse said. “We worked hard on it all night. We struggled a lot more than we expected to. We felt like the past couple of races here we had something that could win the race but we struggled with our Fastenal Mustang a little bit.”
Stenhouse’s performance bagged him the aforementioned $100,000 from Nationwide’s “Dash 4 Cash” program. He was the highest finishing driver of those eligible and the win puts him in the running for another $100,000 payday at Charlotte next month. It was an added reward for the 6 team after a solid performance Friday night.
“That was a great points day for us and all the Roush cars were fast,” Stenhouse said. “We have to keep doing this every week. We didn’t make mistakes tonight, I don’t think we had one area that we made a mistake in, other than not getting our racecar where we needed it to be. Other than that, we have to stay positive. We have been running really well and go on to Chicago.”
Entering Chicago and the final seven races of the 2011 NNS season, Stenhouse holds a 16 point lead over Elliott Sadler and a 45 point lead on third place Reed Sorenson. With two victories this season, the most of any NNS regular, Stenhouse can’t find much to be upset with, except whom he’s been finishing behind lately.
“It is definitely frustrating,” Stenhouse said about Cup drivers Busch and Edwards beating him. “I wanted to be a little more excited about winning that Dash 4 Cash. Finishing third makes it tough to do that.”
During portions of the race Stenhouse felt he had a car capable of running with Busch. For 10 laps Stenhouse would run some of the fastest laps on the track before starting to fall off. The car would get tight and he would be spinning the tires.
“It is disappointing to finish third but then again it is good to be up there racing with those guys,” Stenhouse said. “They are champions and win a lot of races, so to be in contention to win is a good thing in this series.”
Stenhouse’s two victories came by overtaking the Cup drivers. At Iowa in May he bested teammate Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Then at the same track last month he again bested Edwards in a fantastic finish. Cup drivers have won 23 of 27 NNS races this season with Busch taking home eight trophies and Edwards six.
Following in their tire tracks though has been the resurgent Stenhouse and company. Friday night he was best in class for the NNS regulars, unable to catch the powerhouses in front of him. Stenhouse said he struggled in turns three and four, which allowed Busch and Edwards to pull away from him down the frontstretch.
“I would gain on them in one and two and then we were a little too tight in three and four,” Stenhouse said. “I would have to basically stop the car to get it to turn and go the other way. That is really what we struggled with all night.”
As Stenhouse moves forward he knows where he can do better and it comes from in the driver’s seat. Drivers like Busch and Edwards know exactly what they need and how to communicate with their team.
“Sometimes I think I struggle with that,” Stenhouse revealed. “Telling them exactly what I need to make my car faster. Kyle made his better and he normally makes it better every pit stop it seems like. Carl was better at the beginning and was catching him at the end, he just ran out of time I think.”
While crew chief Mike Kelley and the No. 6 team made Stenhouse’s car better on Friday, they too ran out of time. Moving forward for the team as they chase their first championship, being able to make the car better will be an important key to success.
Said Stenhouse, “We just tried something to get us a little bit extra and go after those guys and it just didn’t work for us.”