NOT A STORYBOOK ENDING FOR STENHOUSE, JR.'S CINDERELLA SEASON Toledo, Ohio (October 12, 2008) -- Once upon a time, four teams were mathematically eligible to win a championship entering into the series finale at Toledo Speedway including the No.
NOT A STORYBOOK ENDING FOR STENHOUSE, JR.'S CINDERELLA SEASON
Toledo, Ohio (October 12, 2008) -- Once upon a time, four teams were mathematically eligible to win a championship entering into the series finale at Toledo Speedway including the No. 99 Aflac team. But just as a good book has twists and turns with every turn of the page, so did the battle for the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series championship. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a championship within reach but an early incident with the No. 2 car of Scott Speed demolished all hopes of a championship. Severe damage to the Aflac Ford left the team 67 laps down and fifth in the overall point standings, the worst case scenario for the Roush Fenway Racing stand-out.
Stenhouse, Jr. qualified the No. 99 Aflac Ford in the fourth position for Sunday's finale. The team, who was deep in a championship hunt with the No. 2 team, lost five points to Scott Speed when he qualified third, beating Stenhouse, Jr. by just two-hundredths of a second. Justin Lofton captured the pole setting a new track record with a fast lap time of 15.860 seconds.
The No. 99 Aflac team knew they had a fight ahead Sunday afternoon, but they didn't know just how hard they would have to fight. With just 200 laps to make up 90 points on Speed, Stenhouse, Jr. remained focused on winning the race. The green flag waved over the field and cars shuffled for position. Lofton jumped into the lead followed by Dexter Bean, Speed and Stenhouse, Jr. hot on their heels. In six short laps the first caution of the day waved for a big accident off turn four. Stenhouse, Jr. made it through the smoke and reported that the No. 99 Ford was a little tight but overall pretty good.
The field took the green on lap 10 and once again, Stenhouse, Jr. began to work over a slower No. 2 car. As each lap clicked off Stenhouse, Jr. looked to the inside of Speed but Speed didn't give up his position. On lap 28 Stenhouse, Jr. went across the rumble strips in turns one and two which caused the brakes to fade as he headed into turn three. He barely got into the back of the No. 2 car sending him into the outside wall and down pit road for repairs. The field remained under yellow for several laps with Speed returning to the track two laps down.
The field took the green flag on lap 34 and two laps later, Speed destroyed not only the No. 99 team's shot at a championship, but his own. As the leaders rounded turn one, Speed slowed down in the middle of the turn hitting the No. 99 Aflac Ford in the left rear and sending him careening into the outside wall. Speed came to a rest head-on into the interior wall and the points shake up began.
ARCA officials parked Speed for reckless driving but the Aflac team began to fight the good fight. The team, along with help from the No. 09 Zaxby's team, began repairs to the severely damaged Ford. For 67 lap's crew members welded, sawzawed and hammered on the Aflac car while championship contenders Justin Allgaier, Matt Carter and Frank Kimmel traded positions on the track.
Stenhouse, Jr. returned to the track on lap 104 with nothing more than the roof, hood, decklid and doors still on the chassis. The Olive Branch, Miss.-native clicked off laps gradually working his way from 33rd to 25th by lap 161. Meanwhile, Allgaier, Carter and Kimmel surfaced to the front of the field. The field came off turn four to the checkered flag with Allgaier leading the way. Allgaier took home the race win and the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series championship while the No. 99 Aflac Ford sat beaten and battered in the No. 99 pit box following a 25th-place run. Stenhouse, Jr. dropped to fifth in the point standings to finish out the year.
"I got under the No. 2 a couple times there and let him go because he almost wrecked," said Stenhouse, Jr. following the race. "Then I went over the rumble strips in turns one and two and that cauto fade so I was trying to pump them up into turn three and got into the back of the No. 2 car a little bit. After that he came back on track and got into the left rear of the Aflac Ford Fusion sending me into the wall and ending our chance for a win and a championship. He's a great driver but I just don't think he drives with his head all the time. It's a bad situation for both teams. I can't thank my Aflac team enough and all the guys on the Zaxby's team that helped get us back out there. That was pretty cool."
Many story lines ran through the 2008 season but in the end, Stenhouse, Jr. claimed two wins (first Kentucky and first Pocono), three poles (Springfield, DuQuoin and Chicago), 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 21 starts. Not bad for the open wheel standout who's first foray into a stock car came at Daytona in February of 2008.
When asked about his overall season Stenhouse, Jr. replied, "Overall we did what we set out to do, make laps and gain experience. We got two wins, three poles and a lot of top-five finishes so I can't complain too much. I really wanted to win the championship but it wasn't our time. I hate that it ended this way. Lumpy (crew chief Jeff Campey) and all the guys on the Aflac team, back at the shop, and in the Roush Yates engine shop have worked really hard all year to give me fast racecars and I can't thank them enough. I also have to thank all my teammates and Tony Stewart for their help this year and Jack (Roush, owner) for giving me the opportunity. It was a fun season; I just wish we had a better ending."