Stenhouse scores Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors

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Performance-wise, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s inaugural Sprint Cup season was a far cry from the back-to-back championship years in the Nationwide Series that preceded it. But it was still enough to earn him the 2013 Rookie of the Year title in NASCAR’s top division.

“All in all, it was a huge learning experience,” Stenhouse said in summing up his season. “[I’m] thankful we made it through, it’s behind us now. We can move on to next year, look on improving every spot at every track that we can in the final points standings.”

The Mississippi native didn’t log his first Top-10 result of the year until finishing 10th in the regular season finale at Richmond in September. However, he managed to get through without suffering a DNF, netting an average finish of 18.9 en route to a 19th-place showing in the standings.

By contrast, Stenhouse’s Rookie of the Year rival and girlfriend, Danica Patrick, had what one would charitably call a “character-building” debut year in Cup.

After finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, the former IndyCar star was unable to turn in another Top-10 finish for the remainder of the schedule. Poor qualifying (average start: 30.1) didn’t help matters and on race day, it wasn’t much better for Patrick, who had an average finish of 26.1. Additionally, she had five DNFs.

For his part, Stenhouse said that he and Patrick didn’t particularly focus on their rookie battle outside of a light bit of joking over the situation. He also maintained that both of them learned a lot as Cup freshmen.

“We both wanted to just finish as best we could each and every week,” he said. “Then ultimately, in the final points standings of the whole field, I was shooting for a Top-15 [finish] – didn’t quite get that.

“But all in all, I think we both had decent years…We both have a lot to work on throughout the off-season and through next year.”

In that regard, Stenhouse said he needed to improve on learning the right adjustments to make during practice in preparation for the races.

“We still struggled with that a little bit,” he said. “But then again, I know that’s what we need to work on. We got our qualifying efforts better. We start the race a lot better; we just have to finish it off.

“Next year, that’s the biggest thing, just finishing the races kind of where we start them.”

Stenhouse’s best result this year was a third-place effort at Talladega last month.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: All posts, one place

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In case you missed any of MotorSportsTalk’s extensive 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver reviews on NBCSports.com, we’ve combined them all into one post.

See the full rankings below. Of the 38 drivers that raced at least once this year, 23 of them ran anywhere from six races to the full 17-race schedule, and got a full review. Drivers who competed in four or fewer races were packaged into the “remaining part-timers” post.

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Scott Dixon
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Will Power
6. Graham Rahal
7. Alexander Rossi
8. Takuma Sato
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay
10. Tony Kanaan
11. Max Chilton
12. Marco Andretti
13. James Hinchcliffe
14. Ed Jones
15. JR Hildebrand
16. Carlos Munoz
17. Charlie Kimball
18. Conor Daly
19. Mikhail Aleshin
20. Spencer Pigot / 22. Ed Carpenter
21. Sebastien Bourdais / 25. Esteban Gutierrez
23-24, 26-38. All the rest