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Roush’s Faith In Stenhouse Is Beginning To Pay Off

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011

The career of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has come around nicely this season. On Saturday, he gets his first Cup start. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Concord, N.C. – One year ago Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t know if he would keep his NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with Roush Fenway Racing and he certainly never envisioned a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the near future.

Stenhouse arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2010 with four crashes in the first 10 races and one top 10. His other finishes were 20th or worse and at least half were 30th or lower.

This May, Stenhouse arrived at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track with a Nationwide Series victory in his pocket and the knowledge he would substitute for Wood Brothers driver Trevor Bayne, who has been battling an unknown illness for a month. In fact, in the last eight days Stenhouse has won his first Nationwide race, qualified ninth for his Cup series debut, earned the pole for Saturday’s Top Gear 300 Nationwide event at Charlotte and produced a top 5 that left him only one point behind standings leader Elliott Sadler.

Within 24 hours after Saturday’s fourth-place finish, the 23-year-old driver will strap into the Wood Brothers famous candy-apple red, white and gold No. 21 Ford to make his Cup Series debut in the longest, most grueling event NASCAR offers.

“I haven’t even raced 500 miles (let alone 600),” Stenhouse said. “That’s two Nationwide races. Normally, our Nationwide races are 200 or 250, so they’re gonna throw the longest Nationwide race in and longest Cup race in at one time.

“I’ve been going to bed early all week and making sure I’ve eaten well and drinking a lot

Jack Roush stayed with driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. through the bad times. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

of water. Our trainer at the shop, he’s done a great job making me work out every week and, hopefully, it’ll pay off. If not, I’m sure he’ll be working me out a little bit harder.

“Luckily, we’re not gonna be racing at this time of day tomorrow because the race track got really slick. It was a tough day for us, but I think all the laps are definitely helping. You can’t drive those Cup cars in the corner as hard as these Nationwide cars and when we got tight out there, I was having to do the same thing I was doing in the Cup car, just lifting early and letting it roll through the center.”

Stenhouse readily admits he would prefer not to be making his Cup debut under the current circumstances, but “you’ve got to take what God lays out for you”.

“It’s just crazy how everything happens,” Stenhouse continued. “Trevor is an awesome guy. He’s gonna be here supporting it, so that makes it a little bit easier.”

Wood Brothers team co-owner Eddie Wood said using Stenhouse as Bayne’s substitute was a “no-brainer” since the two young men were “best friends.”

“Trevor is going to help him with the transition because he went through the same thing at Texas last fall (when he made his Cup debut),” Wood noted.

Bayne, whose unknown illness has left him fatigued and with blurred vision, is scheduled to return to the Wood Brothers ride at Michigan.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth, left, talked racing in Charlotte this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

“It stinks not being in the car, but I am excited for Ricky to make his debut, he deserves it,” Bayne commented.

Stenhouse’s primary objective in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is to finish.

“It’s a huge opportunity for myself just to get my feet wet,” the Olive Branch, Miss., native said. “I haven’t had a lot of testing in these Cup cars with the horsepower and the bump stops that they have, so it’s a huge opportunity for me and it’s a long race. Hopefully, I can learn a lot, maybe more than I would in a 400-mile or 500-mile race. The Wood Brothers have done a great job bringing me in and making me feel like family. We don’t have any expectations except for finishing this thing and getting the checkered flag and just seeing where we finish.

“This is Trevor’s seat no matter if I win this Coca-Cola 600 or not. It’s still gonna be Trevor’s seat, which I’m thankful for because I don’t want to do anything to mess up his career, but winning that (Nationwide Iowa) race (last weekend) definitely makes coming into this week a lot easier.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011
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