Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heads to Dover (Del.) International Speedway next weekend in a precarious position in the NASCAR playoffs, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Stenhouse hit the wall early in Stage 1 in Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – the second week in a row his race has started with such issues – and was forced to battle from behind the rest of the race.
He limped to a 22 nd place finish in Stage 1 and at the end of Stage 2 he nearly got caught up in the bizarre last lap multi-car wreck that collected then-race leader Martin Truex Jr.
By the third stage, Stenhouse had fallen a lap down but thanks to two late cautions, returned to the lead lap and on the final 13-lap dash to the finish, managed to finish 15th.
“It was a struggle for us all weekend. I told my guys I felt like we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week,” Stenhouse said. “We just struggled with speed and handling all weekend.
“We made a lot of adjustments (in the race) and was surprisingly a little bit better than we were in practice.”
Thanks to the late-race rally Stenhouse managed to remain in the 12th and final transfer spot to move on in the NASCAR playoffs but he’ll need a much better finish – or even better a win – at Dover to clinch a spot in the Round of 12.
The four playoff drivers lowest in points without a victory will be eliminated from title contention following the Dover race.
“I didn’t think we were as capable of a car to finish where we did, but we did what we needed and had some good breaks and some good pit stops and ended up gaining some points,” Stenhouse said.
“That was our goal, so I feel really good about that. I’d say we’ve had two sub-par weeks and we’re still in this thing, so we’ll regroup and get focused and go to Dover.”
It won’t be easy as Dover has not been kind to Stenhouse in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
This past spring, Stenhouse wrecked out early and finished 39th. In 10 career races at the track he has only one top-10 finish (eighth in 2015). He’d led just three laps total at the 1-mile concrete oval.
“We were fast at Dover (in the spring), but we did blow a right-front at Dover, so we have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes,” he said. “We need to bring another fast car like we did last time and see if we can gain a few more.”