Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started off the weekend at Richmond International Raceway about as best as he could, qualifying fourth on Friday. It didn’t take long into the 400-lap race, that he knew the No. 17 car was one of the best machines he had all season.
On Lap 67, the weekend took a turn for the worse after Denny Hamlin was battling with Stenhouse, getting him loose, ultimately the No. 17 car smacked the outside wall in Turn 3. From that point on it was all about survival for the Roush Fenway Racing team, until the final 50 laps.
For the remaining of the first stage, Stenhouse nursed the wounded car around the track, hoping not to go a lap down. He remained on the lead lap and the RFR crew did repair.
“I thought we had a car that was capable of running in the top five, but just got loose into [Turn] 3 and we were playing catch up from there,” Stenhouse said, following the event. “We were on the splitter, and I couldn’t run my fastest lap until lap five or six. I’m glad those cautions came out becuae I was like we got to stay, that’s our best opportunity. It worked out for us.”
A series of cautions halted the finish of the race, but when Ryan Blaney cut down a left rear tire with 23 laps to go, Stenhouse, along with five other drivers stayed out on five lap older tires.
“I had a good racecar all weekend,” Stenhouse said. “I thought we had a top five car before I hit the wall, but I damaged it and we weren’t good on the short run after that. We were top five on long runs.”
There was a run in the race that Stenhouse drove from 28th to 12th, mainly using the bottom of the track due to the damage on the right side. Recording his second top-five finish of 2017, he believes the team would not have been able to come back from the miscue in previous years.
“The last couple of years we wouldn’t have been able to come close to even recovering from that,” he said. “Our cars were really good on the long runs, we had a lot of long runs here at Richmond, which really helped us. The long run speed and the speed we have built into these cars is just better than I’ve had before. That’s what makes it possible.”
Stenhouse said a few weeks ago that he was excited for the next stretch of race tracks that the circuit is heading to. Sitting 15th in the championship standings, the No. 17 team would be the last team to make the playoffs, with Kurt Busch sitting 17th, but having won earlier in the season.
The fourth-place finish is Stenhouse’s first career victory at Richmond, notching his second top 10 at the track.
“I feel more confident going to every track,” he said. “The cars are getting better. We have to continue making them better. This weekend was probably, I would say, from start to finish the best weekend we’ve had as far as average speed on the long runs, qualifying well. We had two good practices on Saturday. It was the best car we’ve had all year so far.”