By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – For Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., his objective in Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard is simple – win or go home.
Sitting just outside the top-16 in points and not within striking distance of Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson to be able to steal one of their playoff spots strictly on points, Stenhouse will have to find his way to Victory Lane to make his way into the postseason still eligible for the championship.
With only a win paving the way into the playoffs for the driver of the No. 17 Ford, he noted that both he and his crew chief were going to be as aggressive as possible in their effort to end the day on top.
“In the seat I feel like I’m going to drive as aggressive and as hard as I do every week,” said Stenhouse. “We were all really aggressive trying to make sure we got the most out of our day (at Darlington) that we could, so we’ll do the same thing come Indy. Once we finally race I think my crew chief will probably be the one taking the risk and putting me in a different position. If he puts me in a position that calls for pretty aggressive, then that’s what I’ve got to do.
“It’s clear-cut what we’ve got to do, so throughout the race we’re not really worried about each stage. We’re only worried about setting ourselves up for the end of the race because that’s all that really matters for us in this particular race. Even if it doesn’t all work out we still have a tight race for trying to be 17th in points, and I think 17th in points would still be probably my second-best in points since I’ve been in Cup, so that’s something that I strive for to continually get better and make our stats look better.”
In five starts at Indianapolis, Stenhouse has yet to crack the top-10, finishing a career-best 12th in 2016, but with both practice sessions and qualifying washed out, he does have a bit of a leg up on the others in the field as he tested at the 2.5-mile quad oval earlier this season, even though he will have to roll off 16th once the race goes green.
“You’ve just got to go on your past notes, so my crew chief Brian Pattie is really good and I always feel confident in everything that he does,” Stenhouse added. “I just get in and drive. We’ve all made quite a few laps around here, so the driving aspect is not something that we really worry about. We were here testing at the test, so I feel confident that we did get a lot of track time then, so that was good.
“He spent all week making sure that he feels like we put the best setup in the race car, so I always tend to feel like sometimes we’re better off just if we lined them up and raced, so I’m OK with doing that.
“This race last year was without being a Playoff race I thought was pretty crazy at the end, and something that I think now this being a cutoff race I think there’s going to be a lot more strategies played and a lot more gutsy calls, especially if there are some cautions at the end – whether some stay out, take two, there are all different scenarios I think that could play out throughout this race once we get it going.”