Season Review: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse Jr.'s first career win at Talladega was the first of two victories this season at restrictor-plate tracks. (Photo: Getty Images)

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2017 Race-by-Race Results | 2017 Detailed Statistics

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, scoring his first two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins on his way to finishing a career-high 13th in the standings.

In his fifth full season driving the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, Stenhouse started to find the consistency he was looking for - scoring nine top-15 finishes in the first 12 races, including five top 10s. One of those top 10s saw him go to Victory Lane for the first time in his Cup Series career (158 races) at Talladega Superspeedway in May.

"The consistency we showed at the beginning of the season gave us confidence that we had moved the needle in the right direction in the off-season," Stenhouse said. "That was the turning point. We needed to continue making strides throughout the season. Getting the win helped propel that."

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Stenhouse followed that win with his second consecutive restrictor-plate victory in the July race at Daytona International Speedway. The two wins boosted him into the playoffs for the first time. Stenhouse also posted career-best season numbers in top 10s (9), laps led (56), average start (15.9) and average finish (17.1).

"Our organization grew and got stronger as the season went on," Stenhouse said. "We look forward to continuing that on the restrictor-plate tracks starting at Daytona and getting stronger everywhere else."

Stenhouse entered the playoffs as the eighth seed but the first round didn't go as planned. After contact with the wall in both the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway and in the second race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stenhouse finished 25th and 15th, respectively. His 10 playoff points for those two regular-season wins and seven stage points earned after catching the caution at the right time at Dover International Speedway enabled him to advance to the second round.

"We got lucky in the first round of the playoffs," Stenhouse said. "The two wins helped us get the bonus points we needed to advance. I don’t think I did a very good job behind the wheel in the playoffs. I made too many mistakes and got too wrapped up in it instead of just going out and doing my gig. I made contact with the wall quite a few races and had issues."

The start of the second round at Charlotte Motor Speedway saw Stenhouse finish 13th. But crashes at Talladega and Kansas Speedway took him out of championship contention. At Talladega, Stenhouse finished 26th after being swept up in a multi-car accident on Lap 171 and a cut right-front tire at Kansas relegated him to a 29th-place finish. Stenhouse missed the cutoff for the Round of 8 by 46 points and after the reset, dropped to 15th in the standings.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.After getting eliminated from the playoffs, Stenhouse climbed back up the standings by recording an 11.2 average finish in the last four races, which ranked seventh among all drivers in that span.

"When we got knocked out of the playoffs, we focused on what got us to that point - consistency and running well," Stenhouse said. "The guys at the shop are pumped up with our last four races being really strong."

Six of Stenhouse's top 10s this season came at tracks one mile or less in length with four coming in the spring and fall races at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. His best finish in the 11 races contested at 1.5-mile tracks was 11th at Kansas Speedway in May.

"Everybody's ready to go back to work," Stenhouse said. "The biggest thing for us is to make sure we take a step this off-season of getting better on mile-and-a-half tracks and short tracks; and hopefully continue our success on superspeedways."

Motor Racing Network continues our look at the 16 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers in 2017 tomorrow with a recap of the season for 12th-place finisher Jamie McMurray.

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