NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2011 Ride: No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2011 Primary Sponsors: Blackwell Angus Beef, RickyVsTrevor.com, Fastenal
2011 Owner: Jack Roush
2011 Crew Chief: Mike Kelley
2011 Nationwide Series Stats: 34 starts, 1 win, 16 top fives, 26 top 10s, 2 DNFs, first in points

High Point: Winning the championship. Though Stenhouse’s first career victory at Iowa Speedway in May was definitely special, the smile on Stenhouse’s face and the emotion in his voice as he hoisted the trophy in Homestead spoke volumes. Stenhouse’s championship was historical in that he was the first series winner with the new points system after NASCAR ruled that drivers could only compete for points in one series. The 23-year-old driver came into the race with a significant points lead and clinched his first career title relatively early on in the race.

After he was made aware that he was in the clear by crew chief Mike Kelley (which took some time due to scanner issues), Stenhouse made one last run at a third victory, finishing second only .268 seconds behind eventual race winner Brad Keselowski. Stenhouse would win the championship by 45 points over Elliott Sadler.

Low Point: The worst Stenhouse was in points all season was fifth, falling from first to fifth in the standings after botched fuel strategy knocked down a potential fifth-place finish to a disappointing 21st at Richmond International Raceway in April. Stenhouse remained fifth in points for one more week before rallying a charge that would propel him back to the top of the standings. He remained in the top three in points the rest of the season, holding the points lead for the final 14 events of 2011.

Summary: What a difference a year makes. Stenhouse entered 2011 with the lowest of expectations surrounding him, at least from the perspective of the general public. The Mississippi native had just gone through one of the toughest seasons such a young driver can endure, where circumstances became so dire that Stenhouse was pulled from his own car for a week after failing to qualify for a race in Nashville. Many doubted that he would ever amount to anything in this sport, and that Jack Roush should move on to the next guy.

Lucky for Stenhouse, he kept trying. Stenhouse’s 2011 season was a total 180 from last year, winning his first career races and championship and effectively shutting up any and all of his detractors. Even without the championship, however, Stenhouse made a point that he was here to race several times throughout the year, racing up front with and sometimes out-racing the Sprint Cup Series regulars, and displaying some newfound aggression that many of us didn’t think he had in him. Bottom line, Stenhouse has gone from a diamond in the rough to a NASCAR champion and there is no telling where he’ll go from here.

Team Ranking: First. Stenhouse won the drivers’ championship in the Nationwide Series, beating out series regular and teammate Trevor Bayne, who finished 11th. Bayne was unable to run the full season due to an illness.

2012 Outlook: Jack Roush has said that Stenhouse will still be driving for Roush Fenway Racing next season, though the number of races and in which series depends upon sponsorship. It is also possible that Stenhouse will run some races with Wood Brothers Racing in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012, also dependent on sponsorship. Stenhouse competed for the Wood Brothers in the Coca-Cola 600 this year and finished 11th.

2011 Frontstretch Grade: A+

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