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Stenhouse Has Found A Home In Nationwide Series

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought the field to the green flag Saturday at Iowa Speedway. Many feel he will soon be bring fields to the checkered flag.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought the field to the green flag Saturday at Iowa Speedway. Many feel he will soon be bring fields to the checkered flag. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Newton, Ia. – Following a successful rookie campaign last season in the ARCA RE/MAX Series highlighted by victories at Kentucky and Pocono, Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stood at a crossroads.

The former USAC National Sprint and Midget standout lobbied team owner Jack Roush during the offseason for another season at the helm of the No. 99 Ford in ARCA.

But the legendary team owner was eager to see Stenhouse wheel one of his Nationwide Series cars.

Initially, Stenhouse wasn’t sold on Roush’s idea to have him start just seven races this season and share the No. 16 Ford in NASCAR’s junior circuit with veterans Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.

But after amassing a pole position at Iowa Speedway and a pair of top-10 finishes, including a fifth-place run at Milwaukee, Stenhouse is now convinced that his boss made the right call.

“It’s definitely tough,” Stenhouse said, when asked about his limited seat time this year. “At the beginning of the season, I actually told Jack if I can run a full season in ARCA over a couple of races in Nationwide, I’d love to do that.

“But now that we’ve done some Nationwide races, I’m kind of glad he put me in an opportunity to run them. The competition is a lot tougher. The racing is a lot different than the ARCA races. So there’s a lot to learn in these seven races. I think Jack knew that, and I’m glad that he did it.”

Stenhouse had already caught the eye of Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards before the Olive Branch, Miss. native signed with Roush Fenway Racing in late 2007.

Edwards was impressed with the fact that Stenhouse always wasted little time getting up to speed.

“Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is very good,” Edwards said. “He’s always fast. He figures things out really quickly. He’s fearless and he’s a good guy.

“I think he can go as far as he wants to go in this sport. Right now, it’s tough. This Nationwide Series is competitive, and he’s able to hold his own and make good decisions.

“The only thing he needs right now is more races. It’s hard to race once every month or once every two months and build. So hopefully, they’ll get him into a program full time. I think he’ll really shine.”

The 21-year-old Stenhouse said on Friday that he “doesn’t have a clue” about his plans for next season.

But after arriving in Iowa from Pocono on Saturday in time to watch the 21-year-old driver start the U.S. Cellular 250 from the pole, Roush confirmed that an official announcement will be forthcoming about Stenhouse driving for his organization on a full-time basis in the Nationwide Series in 2010.

“Ricky is going to be as good in this business as anybody’s been,” Roush said. “He’s doing a real nice job and we’re excited for him.”

Stenhouse’s seventh, and final, race this season in the No. 16 Ford will occur at Memphis in October. The seven starts will preserve his eligibility to compete for the Raybestos rookie of the year title next season.

During the weekends he’s not racing, Stenhouse can be found at the track absorbing information.

“He’s travelled with the team as much as possible,” said Eddie Pardue, crew chief of the No. 16 Ford. “It’s not like he’s just showing up seven times a year. He’s part of the team and he’s with us when Biffle and Kenseth are driving the car.

“It’s not like he’s removed from us, we take him out of the car and he’s gone. He’s on top of the truck and he’s talking to those other guys and learning what they’re doing.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
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