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Texas Is Big For NNS Driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 1 2012

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heads to Texas with the Kansas wind at his back. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

Reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently is second in the point standings, six behind leader Elliott Sadler of Richard Childress Racing.

Stenhouse padded his NNS points lead with a sixth-place finish last November for Roush Fenway Racing at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, site of Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. Fresh off his most recent victory of the season at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, Stenhouse could become the sixth driver in series history to win consecutive Nationwide titles.

The last driver to win back-to-back NNS championships was Martin Truex Jr. in 2004-2005 while driving Chevrolets for car-owners Teresa and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR’s Nationwide Series history dates back 30 years, to 1982. The other back-to-back title winners were Sam Ard driving Oldsmobiles for car-owner Howard Thomas in 1983-84; Larry Pearson driving Pontiacs and Chevrolets, respectively, for car-owner David Pearson in 1986-87; Randy LaJoie driving Chevrolets for car-owner Bill Baumgardner in 1995-96 and Earnhardt Jr. driving Chevrolets for car-owner Dale Sr. in 1998-99.

Stenhouse has logged six wins, 17 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes this season. He has completed 971 of 1,005 laps (96.6 percent) at TMS, where he has an average starting position of 4.6 and an average finishing position of 11.0.

Driver of the No. 6 NOS Ford Mustang, Stenhouse is headed for a fulltime Sprint Cup ride with RFR in 2013 as the replacement for 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth, the two-time/reigning Daytona 500 winner. With that career move secured, Stenhouse addressed his repeat NNS championship possibility during the weekly NASCAR teleconference previewing Saturday’s event.

Q: What is your team strategy with crew chief Mike Kelley, and your preparation, heading into TMS this weekend

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is in contention for a second-straight Nationwide Series championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

and for the remaining three races of the season?

Stenhouse: “We’re taking our Chicago (Chicagoland Speedway) car that we won with back to Texas. We’re going to take our setup that we won with at Texas earlier in the year (April 13) on that race car. So we feel like we’ll have a good showing at Texas. Phoenix, we finished third, I think, earlier in the year, and not too far behind Elliott, who won. I think we’ve got some great racetracks for us.

“The No. 2 car (Sadler’s One Main Financial Chevrolet Impala) also has great racetracks for them. But we’re just going to stay focused on what we’re doing and what we’ve done to win and get to this point. With the racetracks we have left, we feel like we’re in a great position right now.”

Q: What would it mean to you to capture a second consecutive Nationwide Series title?

Stenhouse: “I think it would be huge. Last year it was cool getting our first one, and then to be able to back it up, I think that would be a big accomplishment. I think it’s been tough. I feel like we’ve performed better this year than we have last year, but we found ourselves still behind. It would be a huge accomplishment for our team and some good momentum.”

Q: What do you anticipate racing under the lights on that high-banked quadoval?

Stenhouse: “Racing under the lights at Texas always brings excitement. You can race the entire track from top-to-bottom and the track gets really fast at night. This is NOS Energy Drink’s final paint-out of the year so it would be great to get them into Victory Lane. We’re down to the final three races so I have to do my job inside the car, and my No. 6 team has to execute on pit-road. It would be awesome to sweep both Nationwide races at Texas this year.”

Q: You are second in points with three races to go. How difficult is that on you as a driver, knowing that one little mistake could cost you big-time?

Stenhouse: “There’s definitely a lot of pressure. There has been all year. I think it doesn’t really come from outside pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself and on our race team. But I think we made a mistake last week, or two weeks ago at Kansas I made a mistake. But my guys never gave up, they kept working hard and we came back to win the race. I think if you make a mistake, it had better be early in the race so you can bounce back from it.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure on everybody running for a championship, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s a Nationwide Series championship or your local dirt track series championship. It’s tough to win championships no matter what. So yeah, that pressure is there.”

Q: Can you compare the first championship to a possible second title, and how much it’s helped you along the way this season?

Stenhouse: “Yeah, I think last year I made fewer mistakes, actually. I think this year we’re in more contention to win races, and so I think sometimes I lose track of that we’ve got a championship to win and I go out to win races. We’ve kind of got to get back to last year where we don’t make any mistakes the last three races. But I don’t think it’s any easier. I think it’s actually a little tougher to get your second one in a row. I think we’re up for the challenge.”

Q: So, are you anticipating adding a second cowboy hat to your collection, as a repeat winner at TMS?

Stenhouse: “Yeah, that’s what we’re looking forward to, is another cowboy hat. There’s two tracks I really want to win at again, and that was Texas and Homestead-(Miami Speedway). If we can get that accomplished, I think we’ll have another championship, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 1 2012
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