[media-credit name=”Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”255″][/media-credit]Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won for the second time in 2012 on Friday night in Texas but in doing so he had to overcome everything Friday the 13th could throw at him.
From radio problems, to his tachometer acting up, even the lights going out on multiple occasions. Yet it wasn’t enough to slow him from leading 69 laps and capturing a cowboy hat to go with the cowboy personality, and boots, that he already has.
“It was back and forth,” said Stenhouse of his night. “The race started we were very strong, our Pure Michigan Mustang was doing everything that I needed it to do. Then we lost a little track position there on that restart and seemed like we really struggled, wasn’t sure if it wanted to be loose, tight, we were battling with it.”
Stenhouse credited crew chief Mike Kelley for making all the right changes, as well as keeping him calm. Knowing they had a fast car but unable to overtake Paul Menard during a stint of the race, Stenhouse was told to relax and they would continue working on it.
“Mike decided to go with no changes on that last pit stop, which I wasn’t fond of. But he knows what he’s doing, that’s why he gets paid to do that. That last restart, it was crazy man. I think I spent the whole five laps we had under caution just praying for a good restart and everything worked out for us.
“It was fun racing those guys. I had to drive in to turn three wide open Denny [Hamlin] was on the left rear of us and got us a little bit loose but we managed to hang on and pull it off.”
It’s the first win for Stenhouse at Texas, his fourth career and the ninth win for Roush Fenway at Texas. He’s only won at three tracks: sweeping Iowa last season, Las Vegas earlier this season and now Texas. He only won twice all of 2011.
Team owner Jack Roush said he felt it was harder to defend the championship than it was to win it for the first time. But the defending champions continue to improve and have become a force to be reckoned with at every track on any given weekend.
Friday night Stenhouse showed everyone that all the talk about Elliott Sadler being in the drivers seat for the championship was premature. And he did so by also showing everyone that even his weakest link, restarts, wasn’t enough to keep him down.
On nearly every restart Stenhouse started off slow, seemingly spinning the tires. But then after a lap or two he had his No. 6 wound up on the high side and he quickly reeled the leaders back in.
On the race’s last restart with six laps to go, Stenhouse was able to keep Hamlin side-by-side with him before once again pulling away as his car came to life. He went on to win by 1.4 seconds over Paul Menard.
“I feel like we have,” said Stenhouse about improving his restarts. “I think a big thing last year was confidence in restarts. If I had a bad one I would spend whole run and the whole next caution trying to think about what I needed to do different.
“I just go into it with a little bit more confidence this year about it. They seem to be a lot better. There’s still some things I need to work on as a racecar driver and I think restarts, the initial takeoff can be improved on. Once we get going I don’t know if there’s anybody that drives it harder than we do. So getting up through the gears, we’re getting a lot better at it.”
It wasn’t all hard work for Stenhouse and company on Friday. There were plenty of light moments on the radio as they battled with the likes of Menard and Hamlin. Spotter Mike Calinoff had Stenhouse look to the right during one caution period and wave because he was watching him on NASCAR’s FanVision.
Throughout the course of the event he and Calinoff also traded barbs about Sadler constantly being on the track’s big screen TV.
Stenhouse joking, “They must love Elliott Sadler, he’s always on that big screen over there. I hate looking at that.” Later on saying Sadler should have a desk set up in his car so he can be a TV analysis or a permanent in-race reporter.
Then after taking the lead for the final time with less than 20 laps to go Calinoff told Stenhouse, “clear by six [car lengths] and the 2 [Sadler], is not on TV.”
It was all in good fun though. Sadler and Stenhouse have set themselves up for a great championship battle over the course of the season. Each have won twice in the seasons first six races and sit first and second in points heading to Richmond in two weeks.
“I think we look at it,” said Stenhouse of the points. “Obviously ours was a very close race up until Phoenix there last year. We sat down this offseason and looked at how many points we gave up at the beginning of the year not finishing off the races as strong as we should. Or some pit calls that didn’t go our way and things like that.
“So we definitely have started looking at it and you just need to try to stay consistent. When you have those bad days at this point you got to keep the 2 [Sadler] in sight as much as you can and try to give up minimal points to him.
“We definitely look at it. That’s our main goal this year, to go back and defend that championship and I think you got to start looking at it as early as the first race.”
|Unofficial Race Results|
|O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Texas Motor Speedway|
|1||3||6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||47|
|5||4||3||Austin Dillon *||Chevrolet||40|
|11||14||12||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||33|
|13||7||88||Cole Whitt *||Chevrolet||31|
|14||20||5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||0|
|18||23||81||Jason Bowles *||Toyota||26|
|20||15||70||Johanna Long *||Chevrolet||24|
|33||41||124||Benny Gordon *||Chevrolet||11|
|34||39||23||Robert Richardson Jr.||Chevrolet||10|