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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. "really pumped" with Iowa top-five

A risky pit strategy paid off handsomely for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Iowa Speedway and provided him and his JTG Daugherty team a much-needed lift.

While Sunday night’s race at the .875-mile short track was the first for the NASCAR Cup Series, Stenhouse had several previous starts – and wins – at Iowa from his days competing in the Xfinity Series.

Stenhouse, who entered the race with just one previous top five finish this season, was hoping his experience would prove beneficial – and he was right.

Despite a sub-par qualifying effort, Stenhouse’s No. 47 Chevrolet showed speed from the start and by the end of Stage 2, he was 13th.

“Yeah, that first run and starting at the back, we were really strong late in that run. So, I felt confident in what our (car) could do throughout this whole race,” he said.

“We had a little mishap on pit road that set us back again, to kind of that back row. So, we had to battle back from that. Those guys cleaned it up on pit road, and we had great strategy with those two tires to get us back to clean air at the front of the field.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, JTG Daugherty Racing, Kroger/NOS Energy Drink Chevrolet Camaro

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, JTG Daugherty Racing, Kroger/NOS Energy Drink Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images

On what turned out to be the final caution of the race, Stenhouse was one of three drivers who took on only two new tires on the stop, which moved up to the front of the field.

It was a bold decision as many teams had fought right-front tire issues throughout the weekend after 40 to 50 laps on their tires. Stenhouse’s left-side tires would have to last more than 120 laps as the race remained green to the finish.

All three drivers who utilized the strategy saw solid results – Ryan Blaney won the race, Stenhouse ended up fifth and Joey Logano sixth.

Shortly after the final restart, Stenhouse even battled Blaney side-by-side briefly for the race lead and thought if he managed to stay ahead of the reigning series champion, he could have been the one to visit Victory Lane.

“Really wanted to go battle Blaney there. We got to second, just got a little too loose, and couldn’t hold those guys off,” he said. “Really cool to do a Cup race here in Iowa after all our success and to do it in front of a great crowd.

“I think we were really good on restarts. Our car was able to rotate and pass a lot of cars,” he said. “Then, you know, obviously the strategy and those two things combined or what helped propel us towards the front and we had a strong enough car to hold on.

“So, man, it was a cool night in front of a packed house.”

Stenhouse, mired in 25th in the series standings, will need a win in the final nine races of the regular season to make the playoffs, but Sunday’s race gave him hope it was possible.

“I'm just really pumped at, you know, what we were able to do on a night that that we really needed it,” he said. “We’ve struggled as of late just you know kind of finishing off races and we’ve done a lot of good things you know here and there throughout these races.

“Just good to finally put one all together.”

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