Stenhouse Set for Sophomore Season

R.Stenhouse Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has his sights set on an even better season than the one that led to last year’s Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has his sights set on an even better season than the one that led to last year’s Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver won 2013 rookie honors as a follow-up to two straight Nationwide Series championships.  But despite the performance, Stenhouse believes there’s much more to accomplish as he gets ready to embark on a second full year in NASCAR’s top division.

"It (2013) was disappointing but I think toward the end of the season, we got going in the right direction, qualified better, and started running up front and getting a few more top 10’s," Stenhouse said of last year's effort that saw him register an average finish just a shade over 18.  "We’re going to take that momentum, apply it to this year and really hit it strong."

Stenhouse, who qualified ninth Sunday in Daytona 500 time trials, believes much of his improvement will come from being reunited with former Nationwide Series crew chief Mike Kelley.  They won a pair of titles together and now that they’re back together, there is great optimism for similar success in the Sprint Cup Series.

"There’s no reintroduction time between myself and Mike," Stenhouse said.  "From the time that we started running together in Nationwide in 2010, I don’t think there’s been a day that we haven’t talked.  Even last year, I talked to him every single day, we texted every day and after every race, we’d call each other."

In addition to the chemistry between driver and crew chief, Stenhouse has great confidence in the upgrade of Roush Fenway Racing equipment for the new season.

"The cars Roush Fenway is building now are going to be a step above what we had," said Stenhouse.  "I’m looking forward to getting on the racetrack and seeing everything we’ve worked for in this off-eason merge and pay off."

Striving to improve won’t be an issue for Stenhouse, who says his family is responsible for instilling a strong work ethic at an early age.

"I got mine from my dad," he said.  "He made me work on my racecars, go-karts and everything growing up if I wanted to race.  If I didn’t put time in the shop, I didn’t get to go race.  He works 16-18 hours a day even now, building engines, so he works really hard and I learned from an early age that if you want something, you’ve got to work hard for it."

Stenhouse plans to do just that in year No. 2 of his Sprint Cup career and the possibility of running for a championship is not out of the question.  The expanded Chase format will provide an opportunity to get into the playoff battle with a win in the opening 26 races of the season.  From there, Stenhouse - a fan of the changes NASCAR made to the championship system - will take his chances with what he hopes will be more people watching.

"This year is gonna be a great year for us," said Stenhouse.  "It’s gonna be a great year for NASCAR.  The fans will be engaged.  I was telling somebody earlier that you always watch the Stanley Cup, it’s the best of seven.  I hardly ever watch hockey, but I always watch the Stanley Cup.  And then obviously, like our Homestead race, a 'Game 7' - everybody watches Game 7 whether you’ve watched any of the games before.

"It’s gonna bring a lot of people to our sport that maybe wouldn’t regularly watch it.  I hope they enjoy what they see, come back next year and want to watch some more.  That’s what I’m hoping for.  We’ve got to go out on the racetrack and make a good show of it so everybody enjoys it."

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