By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s 61st annual running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Six
Career Wins: Two
Biggest Accomplishment: 2011-12 Xfinity Series champion
After scoring two superspeedway victories in 2017, it was a rather polarizing 2018 campaign for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who went winless and missed the playoffs. Now going into his seventh season, he’ll be seeking for a turnaround after finishing 18th in points, and continue making moves on the race track.
The two-time Xfinity Series champion’s memorable moment took place in the attrition filled Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, where he was the subject of blame for causing multiple big ones that took out most of the favorites. Most notably, Team Penske, who’ve became the elite team at the restrictor plate circuits over the past few years.
Despite being the subject of controversy, Stenhouse led a race-high 51 laps before getting caught up in his fifth incident late in the race, he ended up 17th. The Olive Branch, Missouri native said he doesn’t care about the criticism he received from drivers such as Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, and race fans alike for his actions at Daytona.
“No, I don’t really care about criticism. I think we’re all in this business and you get criticized for something all the time,” Stenhouse during a press conference at Talladega in October. “I feel like a lot of fans criticize you. They’re the ones watching in the grandstands and they don’t change the way I race. I’m gonna go out there and put on a show and try to put our SunnyD Ford in victory lane and that’s really my only concern for our team.”
Controversy aside, Stenhouse became known as a hard charging driver. While having a career best average start of 14.8, the 31-year-old racked up cumulative spots gained throughout the season which the Mobil 1 Ultimate Performer of the Year Award is all about.
The prize is given to a driver who gained the most spots via the high side, the low side or splitting the middle in 3-wide racing. Stenhouse won the race award seven times, with 92 during the spring race at ISM Raceway being the most he’s gained. In total, Stenhouse gained 3,090 spots (557 of them coming from his seven race awards), earning him the season award at the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards in November.
Stenhouse finished in the top-five in both Talladega races with a third in the fall being his best finish of the season. His other top-five took place at the spring Bristol race, bringing his No. 17 Ford home in fourth, his best non-plate result. With top-10 results in the Coca-Cola 600 and fall Dover race, it marked his third straight season of finishing in the top-10 at least five times.
Heading into 2019, Stenhouse will have a new Roush Fenway Racing teammate as Ryan Newman will join the team this season, and like every Ford team, will have to adapt with the new Mustang and rules package. In addition, both Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank and Sunny D will return as Stenhouse’s primary sponsors.