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2013 Ride: No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford Fusion
2013 Primary Sponsor(s): Best Buy/Zest/Fifth Third Bank
2013 Car Owner(s): Jack Roush and John Henry
2013 Crew Chief(s): Scott Graves
2013 Stats: 36 Starts, 0 Wins, 1 Top 5, 3 Top 10s, 0 DNFs, 19th in Points.
2013 Team Ranking: 3rd of 3. 2013 was largely a year of learning for rookie driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the No. 17 team. Stenhouse’s veteran teammates outran him on a weekly basis as he learned to adjust to the Sprint Cup Series, and while he showed flashes of brilliance from time to time, his season as a whole was underwhelming.
Best Finish: 3rd – Talladega (October).
Average Finish: 18.9.
High Point: Two high points come to mind in regard to Stenhouse, the first one being the Kansas spring race. On a day in which many drivers struggled to cope with the razor’s edge looseness inherent to the freshly reconfigured Kansas pavement, Stenhouse found a special line around the track that placed him as one of the quickest drivers on track all day. Stenhouse was leading late in the event (and led 26 laps in the race total), but a tire strategy shuffle relegated he and his team to an 11th place finish. The fall Talladega event was another highlight for the young Mississippian, as Stenhouse appeared to have a keen understanding of the new 2013 drafting package that allowed him to run with the leaders all race long and deliver a season-best 3rd place finish. Both events showcased that Stenhouse has the raw talent necessary to one day succeed at the Cup level.
Low Point: Unfortunately, just as there were multiple high points for Stenhouse in 2013, there were multiple low points too. Stenhouse struggled mightily on highly physical braking-oriented race tracks such as Martinsville, New Hampshire, and the road courses. Martinsville in particular seemed to vex Stenhouse, leading to an out-to-lunch performance in the fall event that saw Stenhouse fall a whopping 5 laps off of the lead. He’ll need to step it up on these kinds of race tracks if he wants to become a Chase contender going forward.
Summary: Overall, the highs probably outweighed the lows for Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s 2013 rookie campaign. Stenhouse proved to be a decently consistent driver capable of fighting for top 15s, and even proved to be a threat for top 5s when his car was just right. However, a few head-scratchingly poor Sunday performances show that he has to develop his skill set a bit more to be a true contender. Smoothly repaved intermediate tracks and superspeedways seemed to be the facilities that Stenhouse excelled most this season, and continued performance on such tracks is to be expected of him in 2014. If nothing else, Stenhouse proved in 2013 that he has what it takes to be a Sprint Cup driver, now he has to make the necessary improvements to become a Chase contender in 2014 and beyond.
2014 Outlook: Next season ought to be the true test for Stenhouse. He has a year in Sprint Cup under his belt, and will be paired with former Nationwide crew chief Mike Kelley, the man whom Stenhouse won 2 Nationwide championships with. A jump in performance is thus expected of the #17 team, and if Stenhouse can build on the improvement he made at the end of 2013, a breakthrough win and Chase contention may not be out of the question for Stenhouse in 2014.
2012 Frontstretch.com Grade: C (Based on limited Cup appearances).
2013 Grade: C+.
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