Ricky Stenhouse Jr. landed himself in victory lane Sunday for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career and, in doing so, proved he’s up to the task of spearheading Roush Fenway Racing’s resurgence.
Stenhouse’s win in the Geico 500 at Talladega Super Speedway not only was his first at the Cup level, but also Roush Fenway’s first since June 22, 2014. For those who’ve been following the team’s results throughout the start of the 2017 season, however, it seemed inevitable that Stenhouse would help it end that drought.
Aided by Ford’s increased presence in NASCAR, RFR has gotten off to a strong start in 2017; heading into Talladega, its two drivers had amassed five top-10 finishes through nine races, four by Stenhouse and one by Trevor Bayne. Though Roush’s dramatic improvement from 2016 isn’t solely the result of more cars running Ford engines.
Roush Fenway made the decision ahead of this year to condense its Cup operation to two teams, the No. 17 and the No. 6, rather than replace the retired Greg Biffle. As a result, RFR has been able to use its personnel more efficiently than it could while fielding three cars, and more importantly, Stenhouse has taken on a new role.
Before the start of the season, Stenhouse told NESN Fuel he’s had to become more of a leader within the team since Biffle left, and that’s helped him record some strong results. The reason being, as he explained to FOX Sports on Sunday, he’s now held more accountable for his on-track actions.
That sense of accountability clearly has helped take Roush Fenway to a new level. RFR not only has consistently finished higher this year than it did last year, all of its points-paying results have been based on merit, rather than luck — none more so than Stenhouse’s victory.
With strong pace throughout the entire Gieco 500, for which he started on the front row, Stenhouse had the car to win Sunday. That didn’t mean it came easy, though, as he had to fend off Cup champions in Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson on the last restart to win in overtime.
By taking the checkered flag Sunday, Stenhouse did more than establish himself as a race winner. He proved Roush Fenway is strong enough this year to challenge for wins, and he’s capable of delivering them.
Thumbnail photo via Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports Images
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