Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to do a little pre-Christmas dirt tracking Saturday in Illinois

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wants a checkered flag for Christmas – well, sort of.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver will get back behind the wheel this Saturday, going back to his short-track, open-wheel roots in DuQuoin, Illinois.

Stenhouse will compete in the fifth annual Great Clips Battle at the Center on the one-sixth Mini-Magic Mile at the Southern Illinois Center, located on the grounds of the DuQuoin State Fair. DuQuoin is about 85 miles southeast of St. Louis, Mo.

The Battle at the Center is a non-points all-star race put on by the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series.

It’ll be Stenhouse’s second bid to win at DuQuoin, having finished second in the inaugural Battle at the Center in 2010. He’ll be driving for Bryan Clauson Racing as a tune-up of sorts for next month’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla., from Jan. 12-17.

It’ll be Stenhouse’s third try to win the Chili Bowl, having finished ninth in 2012, but failed to advance out of the B feature last year.

“We’re always trying to get him up here for the Battle at the Center to get him in the car and get him in the car before Tulsa and hit the ground running,” Clauson said. “He needs to get the rust off in a midget. This year, his schedule allowed him to do it.”

Stenhouse, 27, was a very successful sprint car driver before his career took him to NASCAR. NASCAR star Tony Stewart hired Stenhouse to drive for his USAC team in 2007, and the Olive Branch, Miss., native responded with five National Midget wins, and two others in USAC National Sprint Car competition in 2008.

Shortly after that, Stenhouse joined Roush Fenway Racing and went on to win back-to-back Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012. He became the Sprint Cup/Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2013, but struggled to a 27th-place finish in the final standings in 2014.

Others that will be featured in Saturday’s race action include Clauson, 2014 National Midget Driver of the Year Chris Bell, 2012 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget champ Andrew Felker, and World of Outlaws driver Joey Saldana.

Tickets are $20, with kids 12-and-under free. Doors open at 3 pm CT, hot laps begin at 5 pm CT, with heats afterward leading up to the 40-lap main event feature.

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