Will third Sprint Cup season be a charm for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.?

5 Comments

Just a little more than two years ago, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was celebrating a second consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. But those two years may feel much longer at this point.

As his Roush Fenway Racing team has struggled, Stenhouse’s own decline after jumping full-time to the Sprint Cup Series has been notable. Last year saw him drop to 27th in the championship from 19th in his rookie season, and also fail to lead a single lap.

Stenhouse will enter his third Cup campaign in 2015, and observers will be watching to see if he makes legitimate improvement under new crew chief Nick Sandler, who was lead engineer for former teammate Carl Edwards’ team.

But as far as pressure on himself goes, Stenhouse says that this year isn’t as big as any other.

“I feel like I can do it,” he said. “I really don’t lack confidence in my ability to get the job done in a race car. That’s what I’ve done ever since I grew up is perform in each race car I’ve been in. I want the Cup car to be no different. We struggled when we first started in the Xfinity Series (2010 – no wins, three top-5s, eight top-10s, 16th in points) and bounced back to be very successful there. We plan on doing that here.

“Obviously, I wanted it the first year, and if not the first year, I thought it would be the second year, and that didn’t work. We’re gonna keep plugging away, and I think our results will be better.”

With Sandler’s guidance, Stenhouse hopes that he and the 17 team will resist temptation to carry out major changes to poor cars and instead work on improving them bit by bit to get more consistent results. That was a tack taken by Sandler, Edwards, and crew chief Jimmy Fennig when they were together on the No. 99 team at Roush.

Adding to Stenhouse’s confidence in Sandler’s ability is the fact that his former crew chief, Mike Kelley, also believes Sandler can get the job done. Kelley has now become the car chief for the No. 17 team, and his decision to stick around has meant a lot to Stenhouse.

“I asked Mike before all of this went down if he was OK with it and if he was OK and felt confident that Nick would be able to get the job done, then I would be OK with it too,” Stenhouse said of Kelley. “He’s got a lot of confidence in Nick and it’s cool being in the shop this off-season seeing Mike get back into being that car guy, building pit boxes, and making these cars as nice as they can be.

“As a crew chief, you do get to do that often. You’re stuck to the desk job kind of managing people. Now, he’s still running our whole team as far as crew guys go and giving them direction but he’s also out there doing it with them.”

With familiar faces in new roles on his No. 17 team, Stenhouse surely hopes that the changes will help him get to the front more often in Year 3.

Ricky’s Rough Road
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was stout in his back-to-back Xfinity Series title runs in 2011 and 2012. But since jumping to the Sprint Cup Series, good results have been few and far between.

XFINITY SERIES
2011 Championship – Two wins, 16 Top-5s, 26 Top-10s, three Poles, 541 Laps Led
2012 Championship – Six Wins, 19 Top-5s, 26-Top-10s, four Poles, 788 Laps Led

SPRINT CUP SERIES
2013 – No wins, one Top-5, three Top-10s, one Pole, 35 Laps Led, 19th in Points
2014 – No wins, one Top-5, five Top-10s, no poles, no laps led, 27th in Points

Tony Kanaan says his message of IndyCar-NASCAR unity aimed at fans

Leave a comment

Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The series will race together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.

ON NBCSN: IndyCar at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wants to run IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

“I was bugging Jimmie Johnson to say, ‘Can I be a guest in NASCAR on iRacing?’ I think the misperception, and probably a little our fault as well, is that people don’t know how (IndyCar and NASCAR drivers) respect each and how we think each other’s jobs are so cool.”

It was Kanaan’s comment last week that “it’s not us and them. It is the motorsports world’ that prompted Harvick to ask the 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner about his views on past IndyCar and NASCAR divisions.

Harvick noted that “over the years, IndyCar and NASCAR have that separate stigma as far as the fans, but the racers in the middle, we talk with each other. We’re just racers. I think it’s absolutely great” the doubleheader will happen.

Kanaan said he felt it was the right message to send because of the fans. “For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way,” he said. “We always respected each other and thought each other’s jobs were cool. That tweet was for our fans who say, ‘Those cars are too fast. Those cars are too slow.’ It’s time for us to stop. It’s a racing family.

“For people who don’t understand about racing, any race car is cool. Doesn’t matter if it’s a go kart, a sprint car, a  Cup car, it doesn’t matter. … The situation, we’re in, we’re all equal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We’re all in the same boat now. We can’t do what we love. It just clicked. I said it’s time to send that message. Hopefully this will be the end for ‘you guys and us’ for the fans. For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way.”

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix is scheduled to be run July 4 on the IMS road course ahead of the Xfinity race, which will mean that the NTT Series’ Firestone rubber will be on the asphalt before the Goodyears of NASCAR hit the track.

Recalling a NASCAR test many years ago at Nazareth Speedway when he turned laps a second faster because there’d been an IndyCar race the previous day, Harvick asked Kanaan whether the varying tire compounds might present a challenge.

“I don’t there is a solution for that,” Kanaan said. “It’s part of the job, and we need to realize that you guys run different tires. We run softer tires. It’s no different than (IndyCar) racing with the trucks at Texas. It’s probably harder on an oval than a road course.

“But I like it. It’s part of the challenge and makes the race weekend more interesting, the people who can manage that as well.”

Even though he is sidelined, Kanaan still will stay busy this weekend, racing in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park on NBCSN. He will be tuning in Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox and FS1 as NASCAR hits Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Last Sunday I had my alarm set for 12:40 p.m., because at 1 o’clock (NASCAR was) on,” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I told (wife) Lauren, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and watch the NASCAR race!’ I was excited, and it wasn’t even real. She’s like, ‘Man, look at you … I said, ‘That’s what we got.’ It’s been a weird year.”

Harvick also will be racing Sunday, having recently joined Kanaan in installing a new racing simulator at home.

“Let’s do this Kevin: Come do an IndyCar race on iRacing,” Kanaan said. “I’ll do NASCAR. Now that you have a sim. What do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to go to my 7-year-old to figure out how to drive it fast,” Harvick said.

“He’s been practicing. I’m really good at crashing.”