By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – When the news came down earlier this week that Roush-Fenway Racing would be making a driver change for its No. 17 entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 2020, current driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was just as shocked as the rest of the garage area that he would be out of a ride when this season comes to a close.
“Yeah, pretty blindsided,” Stenhouse said of hearing the news.
The Olive Branch, Mississippi native added that last Wednesday was business as usual – until it wasn’t.
“I got a text on Tuesday night to say, ‘swing by the shop tomorrow at 11.’ I’ve gotten plenty of those texts before, so I didn’t really think anything of it and then my agent called me, I was drinking coffee at 7:30 Wednesday morning getting ready to go work out and he was like, ‘Hey, they called me to come to the shop.’ So, when he said that, I was like, ‘that’s probably not very good.’
“We went in the shop at 11, so I found out just soon before everybody else did. I didn’t really have any knowing that it was coming, but that’s part of it. I know people get fired every day from their jobs and I can’t feel sorry for myself. I’ve got to make sure that we look forward, like I said, to these eight races and what can we land to showcase what I’ve got for 2020.”
With many teams already locking down their plans for next season, getting the news that he will have to find another job for 2020 this late in the game makes things difficult for Stenhouse, but the 32-year old remains thankful for his time with RFR and confidently looks toward the future.
“It was unfortunate, for sure,” Stenhouse said. “Definitely tough timing for myself and my group to try to find another option, but, all in all, I’ve got to look back on the 11 years that I had with Jack and winning races and championships and getting my first Cup win and being competitive – not as consistent as what we wanted, but the end of it all I’m very thankful that Jack took a chance on a dirt racer from Mississippi to come drive his car.
“It was fun, a little emotional with the relationship Jack and I have. It’s the only team I’ve ever been at, so I’m looking forward to see what’s next. Like I said, there’s a lot of work to do on that, but, all in all, I’m definitely looking forward to these last eight with the great partners that we have, everybody on the 17 team. I’ve worked with a lot of them since my Nationwide days, so it will be tough, but it will be a fun eight races with them.”
Since his first days in a stock car, Stenhouse has piloted a vehicle owned by Jack Roush in some form or fashion, starting with ARCA in 2008 before moving up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and eventually the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Stenhouse captured two ARCA wins, eight wins and two championships in the Xfinity Series, and two wins in the Cup Series in his 12 years with the team, but recent struggles since winning those two Cup races in 2017 led the team to go in another direction for the future.
Upon getting the news that he and the team would be parting ways at season’s end, Stenhouse noted that he has been experiencing a range of emotions as he tries to process everything that has transpired in recent days.
“Over the past two days I’d say I went angry, sad, optimistic, looking forward,” he said. “Sometimes change is good and like I said it just didn’t work. It hadn’t been working over the last couple years. We’ve had speed, we just haven’t had consistent finishes. I think that’s what sucks for myself is I feel like we’ve had plenty of speed to get the job done, it’s just a lot of things came down to us not getting those results. Ultimately, that’s what we’re here for is results and they weren’t coming.”
Though his future is up in the air, don’t look for Stenhouse to lose any motivation behind the wheel as he navigates the remainder of the 2019 season and tries to get things in place for 2020 and beyond.
“It’s not hard to stay motivated,” Stenhouse said. “I always drive the car hard, no matter what the circumstances are, so, for me, motivation is always high.
“I feel like I can still get the job done. I look back at my Nationwide Series career and how well we did there against a lot of Cup drivers that were in the field each and every week, and those guys are the ones winning championships and races over here. My Cup career hasn’t been great, but I still think that you look at other people’s Cup careers and it took awhile for them to get going, so I think, for me, I look at that as an opportunity to still turn my Cup Series career around.”