CONCORD, N.C. -- Add Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to the list of drivers to attempt the double duty over Memorial Day Weekend.
But instead of retracing the steps of John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robbie Gordon and Kurt Busch between Charlotte Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stenhouse will simply have to cross Highway 29 to The Dirt Track at Charlotte where the World of Outlaws are holding the United Rentals Patriot Nationals.
The last time Stenhouse competed in a NASCAR/WoO two-fer he was still running in what was then the Nationwide Series.
“I’m running Friday night at the Dirt Track, then we have practice on Saturday morning here (Charlotte), then we have the ‘Drivers Only’ broadcast (on FOX) and then running a sprint car Saturday night,” Stenhouse said. “So, Saturday will be busy for us.
“I raced Knoxville (Iowa) when I was in the Xfinity Series, I guess. But we just practiced one day and then raced that night. Then we raced on Saturday in the Xfinity car at Iowa (Speedway) and didn’t race that night at Knoxville. Yeah, this will be the first time. It should be fun.”
The 31-year-old racer will compete alongside his driver, Sheldon Haudenschild, with the Stenhouse-Marshall Racing team for the first time since last May at Charlotte. Stenhouse hasn’t driven a sprint car since then.
“I’m pumped that it’s a two-day show,” Stenhouse said. “Last year was only one day. Finally, by the end of the night, I was comfortable and ready to go. I don’t know. We’ll see. You’ve got like three laps and then hot laps to get adapted and then go with it.”
Stenhouse is still searching for the sweet spot when it comes to the latest edition of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series package. He’s had just one top-10 finish—a sixth-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway—since NASCAR lowered the horsepower and increased the downforce on the current Cup cars.
“You always want it to be quicker,” Stenhouse said. “I think there are times that we’ve had really, really good runs and there are times that we’ve had quite the opposite, and I think that’s the frustrating part is when you go to one race track and you’re really good, and then you go back to another race track and can’t seem to find that same speed.
“I think we’re getting better at that, for sure. You always want it to be overnight, but when all the other cars and teams are trying to do the same thing and continue their path of progression, it makes that task difficult. I know it’s tough, but it’s nice to have runs like Kansas and being able to pass for the lead under green and not just restart up there and take the lead. So I think that gave everybody at our place a little bit of confidence that we’ve got a car that’s capable of doing that. We just have to put all the parts and pieces together to do that every week.”
With the Coca-Cola 600 starting in the afternoon and running into the night, Stenhouse is hopeful he can put on a performance similar to his run in the most recent points race at Kansas—another 1.5-mile track—where he started 14th and finished 11th. The No. 17 Fastenal Ford rolls off ninth on Sunday.
“We were not very good on Friday,” Stenhouse said of his Kansas experience two weekends ago. “We changed everything in the car and made the same chassis, the same body car with different components underneath and made it fast for racing on Saturday. So that gave me a little bit more confidence that we are building the right things. We just have to make sure we put it all together every weekend.”
Stenhouse has been encouraged by the speed in his cars. He just believes the No. 17 team needs to be more consistent. Currently, Stenhouse is 21st in the Cup standings with an average finish of 18.6. He has led 50 laps in the first 12 races.
“We have speed in our cars and we haven’t had speed on the mile-and-a-halves in a long time, and this year, those are by far our better race tracks,” Stenhouse said. “So that’s been neat to see and we’ve had some issues. Heck, I ran into the back of the 18 on lap two at Bristol and I felt like that was the best car we had at Bristol in practice, and I ruined that for us. And then you get caught in a wreck at Talladega, and then we blew a right-front(tire) at Dover.
“We had three weeks in a row there that were pretty demoralizing, but we bounced back at Kansas and we kind of stepped on our feet at the All-Star Race, but so far this weekend I think we’ve brought a better car than what we had at the All-Star.”
Stenhouse has also gained knowledge from his current teammate, Ryan Newman. Both drivers come from open-wheel backgrounds—although Newman made the transition 18 seasons ago after completing his degree in engineering from Purdue. Stenhouse’s primary observation of the 41-year-old racer?
“Newman doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Stenhouse said. “I feel like he always gets good finishes out of his cars even if they’re not good and that’s something that I’ve always kind of struggled with. I’ve always tried to take a 15th-place car and make it an eighth-place car, and sometimes you just have to sit back and make small adjustments, keep your track position and get the best finish out of it that you can.
“That’s something that I feel like I’m starting to learn from Ryan when it comes to actual driving things, but in team meetings and things like that, with his schooling and background that he has, I feel like he helps bridge that gap between him and I and our engineers and what we’re working on. So it’s been a really good start to the year as far as teammates go, and I kind of knew that going in—that I felt it was going to be beneficial, but I had never really worked with him before as far as teammates go, so our relationship outside of the car is really good.