Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Enlarge Photo
Early in the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series race season, who would’ve pegged Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the heir-apparent to the No. 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry at Roush Fenway Racing once former Cup champion Matt Kenseth left the organization at the end of 2012? That’s what is happening, though. Team owner Jack Roush made it official on June 26 that Kenseth would be leaving RFR at the end of the year and Stenhouse would make the leap to Sprint Cup Series competition full-time in 2013 to replace him.
“It was a big week for us,” Stenhouse said during a press conference at Kentucky Speedway on June 28. “I got the call last week about it and I guess I didn’t really realize it was going to be that big when they announced it. I thought that was pretty cool seeing everything on Twitter and everybody texting me. It was like I won a race again with people texting me and things like that. It is a great opportunity. I was kind of shocked when I heard the news.”
With the move by Roush, Stenhouse isn’t climbing into just any old Sprint Cup entry. He’s taking over the ride that Kenseth, as of the June 30 race at Kentucky Speedway, has driven to the lead in the Sprint Cup Series points standings.
Of course, Stenhouse has come a long way since being “benched” for several races during the 2010 race season after wrecking several of Roush’s race cars. To be specific, he wrecked his way out of four of the first 10 races that year.
After getting “back in the game” in 2010, Stenhouse salvaged the season to finish out that year as the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year on the strength of top-five finishes like a third at Daytona International Speedway in July of that year and a fourth-place showing in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He followed that up with his first two wins the following year, both coming at Iowa Speedway, en route to the 2011 Nationwide Series championship. In 2012, Stenhouse is charged with the task of defending his title, and he may just do it.
After leading the series driver points standings for several weeks, Stenhouse has since slipped to third heading into the June 29 race at Kentucky Speedway because of a slight slump. But he has already more than doubled his career tally this year, adding three more wins to his stat sheet.
“Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has more than proved his abilities on the race track,” Roush said in a press release on June 26. “We feel that he is not only a key piece of our team’s future, but a key piece of the future of the sport. Roush Fenway is an organization with a wonderful past and present, as well as an extremely promising future, and I can’t think of a better candidate than Ricky to usher in the next era of success for the team.”
Stenhouse has come a long way in the short amount of time since his arrival on the Nationwide Scene just a few short years ago. While others may have given up on the young talent, Roush didn’t, and Stenhouse is continually proving his car owner right.
It’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for Stenhouse in his Sprint Cup Series endeavor, but one thing’s for sure: he’s come a long way since the days of sitting on the sidelines to prove that he is worthy of the opportunity.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR