Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stenhouse Jr. Earns Fifth Top-5 Finish of the Season at Charlotte

Teammates Kenseth, Edwards, and Stenhouse Jr.
Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Last weekend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. left Iowa Speedway as a first-time winner. Riding that wave of momentum, he returned to North Carolina with hopes of contending for the win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Top Gear 300. Saturday, with a new sponsor on board, Stenhouse Jr. proved once again that he is one of the best performing Nationwide Series regulars so far this season. The No. 6 Fastenal Ford topped the speed charts in final practice on Thursday evening, and held the top position in qualifying on Saturday as Stenhouse Jr. earned his second pole of the season.

He led the first 12 laps on Saturday afternoon before being passed by teammate Matt Kenseth (substituting for Trevor Bayne) in the No. 16 Ford. On lap 19, he fell to 4th after being passed by the No. 33 of Kevin Harvick. Stenhouse Jr. pitted under the competition caution on lap 25 for right-side tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment. He had slipped back to the 5th position by lap 45 as the car had become tight through every turn. The handling got worse through the following green-flag run, and Stenhouse Jr. pitted under the next caution for four tires, fuel, a wedge adjustment, and a track bar adjustment.

The adjustments helped a little, but the No. 6 Ford continued to run just outside the top-5. In the second half of the race, Stenhouse Jr. began to make a move back toward the front. He cracked the top-5 again on lap 104 as he passed the No. 22 of Brad Keselowski. About thirty laps later, green-flag stops had begun and the No. 6 Ford hit pit road for four tires, fuel, and more adjustments. The caution flag waved again on lap 147, and Stenhouse Jr. was among the few drivers who opted to pit. The No. 6 team made quick work of a four tire stop and making the necessary adjustments, but a lug nut fell off the left side and caused a slight holdup. The pit road mistake left Stenhouse Jr. restarting 12th, but it didn’t take him long to charge back through the field. In the closing laps, he climbed back inside the top-5 to finish 4th, earning his fifth top-5 finish this season, while Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. Stenhouse Jr. gained one position in the standings to 2nd, just one point behind leader Elliott Sadler.

“Congratulations to Matt [Kenseth]. We finished one-two-four. We were planning on the one-two-three, and I kind of missed that.” Stenhouse Jr. said. “We just got really tight there at the beginning, lost rear grip at the end. Just couldn’t quite get that last spot for us to get that one-two-three finish. It was a lot of fun.”

Next up is the STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4. Coverage is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESON.

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