Stand on it Stenhouse; SunTrust Rookie Leads Parade of Title Contenders to Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX Series Steers for Canada This Weekend NELLES CORNERS ON (6-26-08) -- Olive Branch, Mississippi's Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. leads the parade of ARCA RE/MAX...
Stand on it Stenhouse; SunTrust Rookie Leads Parade of Title Contenders to Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX Series Steers for Canada This Weekend
NELLES CORNERS ON (6-26-08) -- Olive Branch, Mississippi's Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. leads the parade of ARCA RE/MAX Series warriors marching north of the border to compete in this Sunday's inaugural Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX 250 at Cayuga Motor Speedway.
The 20-year-old Roush Fenway Racing development driver is, not only the SunTrust Rookie of the Year leader, he's also the championship point leader headed to Cayuga. If that's not enough, Stenhouse, after nine events in 2008, is the only repeat winner so far among eight different winners.
And if he can hang on, he'll be the first driver to unseat nine-time series champion Frank Kimmel from the championship throne since Bill Baird pulled it off back in 1999.
"I am kind of surprised (to be leading the championship points)," said Stenhouse. "For me, not having the experience in a stock car, it is a little surprising that I've been running so well. However, I have the best team and best cars out there so in that respect I'm not so surprised."
Prior to the 2008 season, Stenhouse, an open-wheeler by trade, had never raced stock cars on pavement, or on dirt, for that matter. Yet, in one of the most competitive seasons on record, he's the guy everyone's chasing.
"I think it goes back to the last answer. I didn't have much pavement experience coming into this deal but I've been working really hard and everyone at Roush Fenway Racing has given me the tools to succeed. We've done a lot of testing; I've been watching videos and I have my teammates, crew chiefs and engineers to talk to. Take that and the fact that Lumpy (crew chief Jeff Campey) and all the guys on the No. 99 team work really hard to build fast race cars, it's not terribly surprising."
Still yet, even with the expertise of a well-oiled team, Stenhouse has never even seen most of the tracks he's competing on this year, including Cayuga.
"I've never even raced in Canada but I'm looking forward to this weekend. Any weekend that I'm racing is a good weekend. Wish I had more time to look around up there, but we don't really have time. We're flying into Buffalo late Friday afternoon and driving over so I guess I'll get to enjoy the scenery from Buffalo to Cayuga."
As it turns out, Stenhouse is enjoying a lot of scenery this year. With some time away from the ARCA RE/MAX Series world last weekend, Stenhouse buckled up in a midget at Knoxville Raceway where he finished third in the Knoxville Midget Nationals. Stenhouse won the event in 2007.
Stenhouse cut his teeth in the open-wheel divisions in the south before he caught a break from Tony Stewart, who, after seeing Stenhouse race, offered him a ride in his USAC Sprint and Silver Crown cars. Stenhouse made good use of the opportunity earning a Silver Crown win on the Springfield mile-dirt and finishing second at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
"Tony (Stewart) is definitely a mentor. He gave me the chance to drive for him last year in USAC and from there it's kind of just taken off.
"I think he wants to see the guys do well that came from where he did. I talk to him quite a bit and I know I can always call him for advice or when I have a question. He's come to a few of my ARCA races and it's a big help having him there, giving me pointers on how to get around the track better. I really can't thank him enough and one day I hope to be in his shoes so I can help the next batch of drivers coming up from USAC."
Stenhouse also has plans to do double duty this year at Springfield and DuQuoin where the ARCA RE/MAX Series runs in companion with the USAC Silver Crown Series every year.
"I can't wait to run the dirt tracks. I'm anxious to see how the stock cars will react on dirt; I'm sure it will be a lot different than a sprint car. Last year I won at Springfield in a USAC Silver Crown car and ran second at DuQuoin in a Silver Crown car. This year I plan to race Carl Edwards's Silver Crown car at both tracks prior to the ARCA RE/MAX races, which I'm looking forward to. I think we have a pretty good shot at winning those races."
But whether it's in an open-wheel car or a 3,400 lb. stock car, winning races has certainly not been an issue for Stenhouse. Stenhouse won in only his sixth start in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Kentucky Speedway back in early May. Two races later, he won at Pocono, thus becoming the only driver in 2008 to repeat in the win column.
"Kentucky was my first ARCA RE/MAX Series win in the No. 99 Ford and my first stock car win so that was pretty big. After that win, Jack (Roush) asked if I could do it again and then we went back out and won Pocono. That was cool. I felt like that win was big too because it showed that we could consistently run up front and win. We weren't just lucky in Kentucky."
But as competitive as the ARCA RE/MAX Series has become over the years, there is, indeed, much more to winning races than luck. Stenhouse is fully aware of the expertise, work ethic and knowledge that surround him under the Roush Fenway Racing banner.
"I don't think there's just one person. This is a team sport so it really takes the entire team. Everyone back at the shop from the chassis guys, to engineers, to body hangers and the couple of guys we have that stay in the shop while we're on the road. Then you have the guys that travel each week and even the marketing people because without sponsors we can't do this. Everyone has their job and when they do their job I can do mine. Everyone from Jack on down has been very helpful to me and I'm lucky to have this opportunity.
Every Tuesday Jack comes to Concord and Mooresville for team meetings and as long as we're in town and not testing somewhere I'm in the meeting."
Like most all up and coming drivers, Stenhouse comes from the short-tracks, which is why Cayuga may fit right in.
"I actually really like the speedways, but if I had to pick between short tracks and superspeedways, I would say short tracks because the driver has more input and they are more challenging."
Stenhouse's next challenge is in the form of a five-eighths mile flat short-track in Nelles Corners, Ontario this Sunday afternoon.