By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
There is precious little in-season downtime for drivers racing at the top levels of NASCAR, so each opportunity for a diversion usually is taken very seriously.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the Sprint Cup off week in July very seriously. The vacant week in the Cup schedule coincided with the dates of the American Century Championship, one of the country’s leading charity golf tournaments, and Stenhouse and Danica Patrick, his girlfriend, jumped at the chance to attend.
Stenhouse played in the tournament, a three-round event held at the Edgewood Tahoe South course at Lake Tahoe. Also in the field were fellow Cup drivers Denny Hamlin and Michael Waltrip.
Included on the star-spangled list of celebrities participating were Annika Sorenstam, John Smoltz, Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, John Elway and Aaron Rodgers. Former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien won the championship.
“It was a ton of fun,” Stenhouse said. “It’s the first time I’d ever played in a format where a lot of people were watching. It’s a great event that they do a fantastic job with.”
So how did Stenhouse play? Well … it was sort of like a slow lap at Daytona.
“Didn’t do well,” he said. “Ended up with a positive number -- just not as positive as I wanted.”
Stenhouse tied for 56th place. Hamlin was 55th, and Waltrip tied for 71st.
Meanwhile, back at the race track, Stenhouse is looking toward the rest of the season for a chance for his Ford Fusion team to show some serious improvement.
Entering Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International in New York, he is 27th in points and winless.
“We’ve had a few up weeks, but it’s mostly been kind of down,” he said. “We definitely wish we could have some better results, but, all in all, I think our team is working really hard with what we have right now.
“Everybody at the shop -- Robbie (competition director Robbie Reiser), Jack (team owner Jack Roush), everybody -- is working to try to figure out where the speed is with our race cars. I’m really proud of how hard everybody is working.”
The highlight of the season to date has been a second-place run at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring. Stenhouse has three other top-10 finishes.
“We’ve had some high points -- almost winning the race at Bristol,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going back there (Aug. 23). And we ran a solid top 10 (ninth) at Loudon, which has been a rough track for us in the past.
“We’ve got to get better on the bigger race tracks, back like Jack used to be dominant. We’ve been spending a lot of time working on bodies, underneath the cars, everything we can do to get some speed out of these race cars. We tested at Michigan and did well there, so we’re looking forward to getting back there. Hopefully, all this work we’ve been doing will start showing toward the end of the season.”
Stenhouse said the team has a deficit in the speed department.
“And it’s tough to pinpoint the cause of that,” he said. “We can get our cars driving pretty good, but no race car is going to drive perfectly, and we’re still off just a little on speed.
“You can throw a bunch of different packages at a race car on a race weekend, but it’s tough to do in a 50-minute practice. We’re gathering a lot of data, and we’re looking to figure out where that speed is.
“The guys are putting their heads together trying to figure out what we need to do. I think we’re gaining on it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, going back to Bristol and Michigan and places like that to see if we’ve learned anything.”
Stenhouse said he expects the recent addition of Mark Martin to Roush Fenway Racing as a driver development coach will pay dividends.
“I’ve talked to Mark quite a few times recently,” he said. “He’s very recent with these race cars. Obviously, he’s been with different teams helping out and filling in. He has a lot of insight. I think he’s going to be a huge asset. He’s been to some of these tracks more times than I’ve been to all of them combined.
“It’s really neat to see him back with Jack. Hopefully, we can all get this going in the right direction for Jack and get that Roush name back in the top five and top 10 like he deserves.”