Given the struggles in recent seasons at Roush Fenway Racing, can you blame Ricky Stenhouse Jr. if he’s getting a little excited with how the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season has started? It would be hard not to.
Last season was particularly difficult for the Roush organization with its three drivers – Greg Biffle, Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne – combining for no wins, no poles and four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 36 races.
A slew of new personnel additions this past offseason raised hope that changes were on the way in performance, but not many expected to see the almost immediate effect just three race weekends into the season.
We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves and think we’ve got it figured out. We’ve still got a long ways to go
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Improvement has been visibly improved from how fast team cars are from the moment cars are unloaded each weekend at the track to actual improved results in qualifying and the race.
Admittedly the same size thus far is extremely small, which is why Stenhouse – who already has a top-10 finish this season – remains cautiously optimistic.
“We went to Daytona and the cars were fast. We qualified well. We didn’t get the results that we wanted to in the race, but the cars were fast. Everybody was like, ‘Oh man, that’s great.’ I was like, ‘Hey, this is one race and it was a superspeedway race,’ ” Stenhouse said.
“Then, we get to Atlanta and we were fast and felt good and all throughout the weekend I was like, ‘Man, I just hope tomorrow goes as well as today did,’ and we just kind of took it one day at a time. Again, we had a good race at Atlanta.”
Still, Stenhouse said, he arrived on Thursday for a test at Las Vegas still a little nervous over whether speed would remain in his No. 17 Ford.
And once again, it has remained consistent through the test, qualifying and practice sessions on Friday and Saturday.
“We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves and think we’ve got it figured out. We’ve still got a long ways to go because we want to be back winning and we want to be running in the top-five consistently,” he said.
“So, I’m definitely happy with our top-10 last week, but you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself.”
Looking forward towards Las Vegas
Stenhouse will start 16th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 – best among the Roush cars. Biffle (26th) and Bayne (28th) had more difficulty this week.
The race will be challenging for all – NASCAR’s new low-downforce package is still in its infancy and race could see winds gusts that could top 40 mph at times.
Overcoming some or all of those challenges this week – or at least dealing with them effectively during the race – could prove another stepping stone on Roush’s progress this season.
The changes already taken place, Stenhouse said, are a much-needed boost for everyone who has worked hard the last couple of seasons trying to improve the organization’s performance on the track.
“Over the last few years we were doing a lot of work and the team was doing a lot of work, but we didn’t really feel any difference in the race cars and we didn’t see any speed difference in the race cars,” he said.
“Last year going throughout the year we could start to see a difference, and I think that’s the first time since I’ve been on the Cup side that I’ve actually felt a difference in the cars and continuing to get better.
“There’s a big positive vibe going on throughout the shop and hopefully we can keep that up.”