By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Since scoring his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has not finished inside the Top 10. As the Series moved on to Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400, the Roush Fenway Racing driver was looking to change that.
As the team unloaded off the transporter, Stenhouse’s team struggled to find speed in the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Fusion, managing to be 21st on the speed charts. Stenhouse also qualified 21st. In the second practice, crew chief Brian Pattie helped Stenhouse improve to 17th quick. In the final practice, he slipped to 25th on the charts.
A quick caution for debris and a competition caution helped Stenhouse move up in the running order in Stage 1. By the time the stage ended, he had moved up to 17th, well behind the opportunity to earn additional Championship Points.
Stage 2 was quicker than Stage 1, going caution free. A round of green flag pit stops helped Stenhouse climb up to 15th on track.
Just 25 laps into the final stage, 50 laps for the checkered, the caution waved for a spin by Ryan Sieg. Nearly the entire field elected to pit with 49 laps to go, on the outside edge of the fuel window. Stenhouse’s team, like others, packed the car full of fuel.
Another debris caution with 20 laps to go took fuel mileage out of the equation. The race then struggled to get a green flag footing. Stenhouse was busted for speeding on pit road, luckily under yellow, being forced to the tail-end of the longest line.
On the restart, Clint Bowyer got loose and slapped the outside wall, bringing out the caution. The following restart saw Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, and Daniel Suarez play bumper cars, resulting in Danica Patrick’s No. 10 TaxAct Ford Fusion spinning into the inside wall. Somehow, Stenhouse avoiding both incidents, keeping the nose of his Ford clean.
A five-lap run to the finish allowed Stenhouse to move forward, breaking into the Top 10. When the checkered flag waved, he was in eighth. This is the 23rd Top 10 of Stenhouse’s career, and first since his underdog victory at Talladega. He remains 15th in the Championship Point standings, 286 points behind points leader Kyle Larson.
Stenhouse was happy that his car was best in the race,
“We had a pit road penalty there for speeding late in the race and so we had some good restart with the Fifth Third Ford. It was a lot better than we were in practice. I guess that is the goal, to get it the best for the race, and that is what the guys did. We worked hard all day. It was a good day on pit road. We have a good baseline to come back with in August here at Michigan.”
Now Stenhouse will prepare for the twists and turns at Sonoma Raceway.