Coming into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had low expectations. When the No. 17 unloaded off the hauler on Friday, it became more apparent the team was going to have to salvage a points day on Sunday.
Stenhouse started the ISM Connect 300 from 24th position, lowest of the 16 playoff drivers. And on lap three, his weekend struggles continued when he bounced the No. 17 Ford off the backstretch wall.
During the opening stage, Stenhouse fell a lap off the pace, and never returned to the lead lap until 38 laps to go, when crew chief Brian Pattie left his driver out on the track by taking the wave around. On the restart, David Ragan backed into the fence, thus keeping Stenhouse on the lead lap.
Over the final 30 laps, the No. 17 car took advantage of fresher tires to finish the race in 15th.
“I think it went as expected, we struggled all weekend,” Stenhouse said post-race. “I told my guys it felt like we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week. We couldn’t find speed, couldn’t find a handle on the car. We made a lot of adjustments for today, and surprisingly it was a little better than practice. I didn’t think we were that capable of a car to where we finish. We did what we needed and got some good breaks, had good pit stops and ended up gaining some points like that was our goal.”
Stenhouse entered New Hampshire 14th on the playoff grid, four markers behind Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch. Proceeding 300 laps at the Magic Mile and the two-time winner is tied with Dillon for the last spot going into Dover International Speedway, the cutoff race of Round 1.
“It feels good to be 12th in points,” he added. “We fought all day and never gave up. We didn’t have the best car all weekend, didn’t even feel like we had a great car at the end. That’s one of the tougher races I’ve ran trying to get your car to do what you want it to do, using the brake, gas. We’ve got to hang our hat on that, but we know next week is a different track and we’ve got to bring a faster track and keep building on it.”
Stenhouse and Dillon are one point ahead of Ryan Newman for the coveted 12th position. In June, the No. 17 team was running in the top 10, and even led three laps before blowing a right front tire, finishing last.
In his career at the Monster Mile, Stenhouse has one top-10 result coming in 2015. However, it’s been feast or famine with three finishes of 37th or worse, though his other seven races inside the top 20.
“We need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes, and bring a fast car like we did last time and see if we can gain a few more,” Stenhouse said of his outlook at Dover. “It’s going to be real tight and all of these cars are really good. The RCR cars have stepped their game up. The [No.] 1 has been fast all year. We got a break with the [Nos.] 41 and 5 having issues, but we had our issues last week.”
In the first two races of the 2017 playoffs, Stenhouse has an average finish of 20th, placing 25th at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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