At 30 years old, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the elder statesman at Roush Fenway Racing, a vast change from just five years ago when he was the newcomer at the veteran organization.
But times in NASCAR, they are a changing.
RFR has seen the likes of several top NASCAR drivers move on or retire in recent years, including Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, leaving Stenhouse as the senior spokesman.
“It’s not the sport that it used to be, where you just kind of raced forever and keep digging,” Stenhouse said Friday at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. “We’ve had a huge movement of younger drivers coming in and I think obviously some of those guys got their seats kind of filled.
“I think any sport there comes a point where it seems like all of a sudden a group or a class, if you want to call it, kind of transitions out and I think we’re just in that time frame of drivers kind of transitioning out.”
RFR as an organization has also changed during Stenhouse’s tenure.
Taking on a larger role
RFR, which once put five teams in the 10-car NASCAR playoffs in the Cup Series, now fields just two full-time entries. Trevor Bayne, 27, is currently Stenhouse’s only teammate.
As Stenhouse has developed as a driver – he won his first two Cup series races last season – he has also become more comfortable at taking on a more vocal role at RFR.
“I think, for me, I try to pick-and-choose when I jump up in meetings and say something. I think, for one, I got to know for sure that whatever I’m thinking is 100 percent the right way,” Stenhouse said. “You don’t want to jump up in meetings and give your opinions, but lead your team down the wrong path at the same time.
“I kind of pick-and-choose talking with (crew chief) Brian Pattie. I get a lot of information from him on things that we’re doing at the race shop, and we kind of put our heads together and decide what we want to do and go forward.
“I think the relationship with Brian, him giving me more information and I’m more aware of what we’ve got going on at the race shop being in all the meetings that I go to, so that’s enjoyable.”
After a slow start to the 2018 season, Stenhouse’s performance has taken a dramatic turn upwards in the last two weeks.
Stenhouse started from the rear of the field in a backup car at Texas but was running in the top 10 late in the race when he developed a mechanical issue. Last week at Bristol, Stenhouse earned his season’s best fourth-place finish.
He’s confident his No. 17 Ford team can continue its strong run this weekend at Richmond.
“It was a good race for us last year, a couple races that we’ve had here, and it will be different,” Stenhouse said. “I like racing during the day here. The track presents itself more opportunities to run around on the race track when it’s during the day, but night racing is cool here, too.”