By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into next month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Five
Career Wins: Two
2017 was a breakout year for Olive Branch, Mississippi native Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as he finally scored his first career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with triumphs at Talladega and Daytona, along with a playoff berth that saw him finish the season 13th in points.
But finally scoring those elusive wins is just the beginning for Roush-Fenway Racing as the team continues to make strides towards being more consistent on all of the different tracks and not just on the restrictor plate tracks.
“We worked on a lot of things,” Stenhouse said of their progress last season. “I think we worked on a lot of things that didn’t work as well. When I feel we got off a little bit last season it was we were working down a path that we thought there was going to be some good things at the end of the tunnel. When we got there it just didn’t produce, whether it be the downforce or the grip in the race car we were looking for, so I feel like there was about a month or two that we fell behind of not gaining on it while other teams were continuing to gain. I felt like we fell behind at that point.
“I felt like we started the Playoffs further behind than we thought, but I thought we ended the season – Martinsville, Phoenix, Texas, Homestead – closer to where we started the year based off of speed. So I’m looking forward to those things that we worked on. We worked on those things this offseason to hopefully continue that progress, but it’s not gonna be overnight. I think we have focused in on things that we need to be better on.”
After winning two of the four restrictor plate races last season, Stenhouse noted that he was confident his team could make some noise when the 2018 season kicks off at Daytona.
“I think there’s a lot of things that are looking good for us in 2018. I think, like I said, we ended the season really strong and I think my team has confidence in what we’re gonna be able to do. The cars that we’re building going into the Daytona 500 after winning two speedway races this past season, not looking for our first win is nice, not having that riding on your back. That seemed pretty tough to deal with for a long time and now I don’t have to answer those questions, but not it’s what other race tracks are we gonna win at? I definitely want to win at other race tracks, but going into the 500 I feel a lot more confident than I ever have.
“I always went into the 500 thinking, ‘Hey, lets’ get off to a good start. Let’s have a good points race.’ I never thought about winning the 500. I just thought that I was competing in it and if I won that was cool, but I didn’t really feel I had the confidence that we could. After last season, I feel like going in that is the only goal that we have when we go down there is to win and not just to get a good finish out of it.”
While the superspeedways are the bread and butter of the No. 17 team at the moment, if his team can find consistency across the board in 2018, there’s no reason why Stenhouse couldn’t find victory lane again this year as he looks to continue the upward trajectory started a year ago.