Stenhouse Races Hard To Clinch 2nd NNS Title
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will ride into the Sprint Cup Series next season with memories of a fast Mustang that carried him to a second straight Nationwide Series championship.
Stenhouse finished sixth in the Ford EcoBoost 300 Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway to easily protect his No. 1 points position and win the Nationwide Series championship. For the second straight season, Stenhouse outran second-place Elliott Sadler to win the title in NASCAR’s No. 2 division.
Stenhouse will move to the Sprint Cup Series next season to drive Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 Fusions, while Mike Kelley, his championship-winning crew chief for the past two seasons, will stay in Nationwide and lead driver Trevor Bayne’s team next year.
Regan Smith won Saturday night’s race, but Stenhouse ran up front most of the night and was never in danger of losing sight of the championship. He was in the top five most of the race and was never lower than 12th.
Stenhouse entered the race with a 20-point lead over Sadler and finished the night 23 points ahead of Sadler. Austin Dillon finished third, 24 points back.
“It’s really cool to be up here and drive these cars for Jack (team co-owner Jack Roush), Ford and Roush-Yates and for everybody who puts their heart and soul into this,” said Stenhouse. “I’m just glad to be able to do it two years in a row.”
Stenhouse fought a loose condition in his car in the second half of the race but said he wasn’t concerned. “We’ve had loose race cars before,” he said. “I think we went a little too far (in changing it). It got a little too tight to have a run at it.”
He raced with Dillon, Sadler, Brian Scott and Sam Hornish Jr. over the closing miles, trying to keep a top-five spot, before spotter Mike Calinoff cautioned him about racing too hard. A wreck could have been very costly. It was hard racing through the season that earned Stenhouse a second title, however.
“I go out and drive a hundred percent every lap,” Stenhouse said. “I ran the bottom when I needed to, the very top when I needed to and ran the middle. I like to go out and have fun. I like to drive hard. I don’t ride around. That’s not how I got in our position.”
Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, expressed the delight of the Ford community at having a repeat champion in the Nationwide Series.
“This is for every Ford fan and every Ford NASCAR fan that roots for Ford,” he said. “Congratulations to Roush Fenway Racing, Ricky, Mike Kelley and the entire 6 team for their accomplishment this season. What a strong season they turned in. They never once gave up, and persevered all the way back to the top. Back-to-back championships is such a special accomplishment, and we at Ford Racing couldn’t be prouder of what they have done.”
Stenhouse called the championship “a testament to how hard Jack works and puts these guys together. Mike’s done a great job building this team. He came to me when I was a rookie in 2010 and brought speed to the car and helped me to finish these races and figure this out.”
Roush said his organization “has never had anything that worked better than the combination of Mike Kelley and Ricky. It’s hard to put together a second championship on the heels of a first. Ricky and Mike really deserve my thanks and credit for the great job they did.”
Stenhouse won six races (a series high) this season and finished in the top five 19 times. He became the sixth driver to win back-to-back Nationwide titles. Roush Fenway won the driver’s championship for the fourth time.
Smith won Saturday night’s race in front of Kyle Busch. Brendan Gaughan was third, Hornish fourth and Dillon fifth.
Michael Annett drove his Mustang to a 12th-place finish and wound up fifth in series points.
* * * * *
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. -- No. 6 Cargill Beef Ford Mustang -- HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WIN TWO STRAIGHT? “It feels really good. I think it’s just a testament to how hard Jack works to put these guys together. I guess Mike’s drinking already. I don’t know where he is (laughing). But he’s done a great job building this team. He came to me when I was a rookie in 2010 and brought speed in the car and helped me to finish these races and figure this out. We won rookie of the year in 2010 and we were at the banquet and said that we wanted to be there in 2011 and we were able to accomplish that. And to sit up there last year we told each other we wanted six to 10 wins and another championship and we got that. It’s just a lot of hard work by a lot of great people
and I’m just blessed to be a part of it.”
JACK ROUSH, Co-Owner, No. 6 Cargill Beef Ford Mustang – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WIN BACK-TO-BACK TITLES? “It’s been my honor and distinct privilege to be part of the NASCAR operation here for 25 years. I’ve had a lot of great driver-crew chief combinations over the years and I’ve never had anything that has worked better than the relationship between Mike Kelley and Ricky. They are both gonna do very well in this business for a long time to come. It’s hard to put together a second championship on the heels of a first, especially when it’s your first and second that you’re dealing with. I’ve never seen it done before. I guess it’s been done, but certainly not by my crowd, and Ricky and Mike really deserve my thanks and my credit for the great job they did. The sponsors behind the program, of course, made it all possible. Cargill is really important as all the other sponsors. Ford Motor Company has been unwavering over 40 years of support for the team. We’ve had a great time and it’s just super to be down here with Ford Championship Weekend and we’re able to celebrate another championship.”
RICKY STENHOUSE CONTINUED – WERE THERE SOME ANXIOUS MOMENTS NEAR THE END? “There were some anxious moments for our spotter, and I got tired of listening so I keyed up the microphone so he couldn’t talk to me anymore (laughter). He wanted me to let him go and, of course, I wanted 20 top fives at least so we came up one spot short. We wanted to win the race. That’s what we come to do each and every week and that’s what got us in the position that we were in. I felt like at times throughout the race we were OK and the second-to-last run we were really, really loose and made a big adjustment. I think we just over-adjusted a little bit, but I like racing hard like that. That’s what I do. That’s what I enjoy and that’s why I love racing. That’s
just how I drive.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – “Mike Calinoff was trying to do what he thought was best for Ricky and best for the team. He was getting on Ricky’s nerves a little bit and he was getting on my nerves as well. All of the alarms went off when the microphone got stuck and I motioned to Mike that it was the steering wheel and he was doing it himself -- it was in the car. To start with they thought maybe it was a crewman that had a microphone depressed, but there was a car noise there and Ricky had pushed it. My concern was that he’d fool around and hit the all while he was trying to hold the damn button down (laughter).”
RICKY INTERJECTS: “It was only 10 laps.”
MIKE KELLEY, Crew Chief -- No. 6 Cargill Beef Ford Mustang -- “Mike was well aware of what was going on. I just want to let you know.”
TALK ABOUT TWO TITLES IN A ROW. “We put a lot of work in. Jack gave us all the opportunities we needed. The toughest thing we probably took for granted over the last couple of years was having teammates and trying to do it without a teammate, really relying on everything Ricky tells us each and every week, and making sure we had good enough cars to give him what he needed to do. Obviously, when our cars are close or really good, it’s tough for anyone to stand up to Ricky out there, but there have been a couple weeks where we missed and didn’t give him the things he needed and he was able to bring them home with solid finishes. It comes up to a night like tonight where we were able to reach a goal that we set and that’s a really good feeling.”
RICKY STENHOUSE CONTINUED -- WERE YOU FRUSTRATED BY THE END OF THE RACE? AND WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN LIKE IF YOU HAD HIT THE WALL? “I don’t think about that. I go out and drive 100 percent every lap. I ran the bottom when I needed to. I ran the very top when I needed to and ran the middle. I don’t know. Luckily, I’m not having to tell you how it would have felt. Like I said, I like to go out and have fun. I like to drive hard and I don’t ride around. That’s not how we got in our position. I think if I rode around a little bit, we wouldn’t have been even close in the points. I think we could have stretched it out this year, but driving that hard I’ve made some mistakes and got us where it was close, but, I don’t know how that feels.”
WERE YOU MAD AT THE END OF THE RACE? YOU DIDN’T SOUND HAPPY ON THE RADIO. “We lost the race. I like winning races. I didn’t come to Homestead, my favorite race track, to run sixth. I think seeing my guys excited is what I like to see and I know they were excited and their families were excited and they have put a lot of effort into letting them go on the road. Yeah, I am excited about it and definitely excited and will celebrate the championship for sure on Monday. We have a Cup race to run tomorrow. I am just pretty disappointed we didn’t win the race.”
MIKE KELLEY CONTINUED -- WHY DID YOU TURN DOWN THE OFFER TO MOVE UP WITH RICKY NEXT SEASON? “A couple of reasons are involved in that. Obviously I think with Ricky going to the Cup series he is going to need someone that really knows those cars a lot and has been around those cars a lot. This year I was really solely integrated into the Nationwide side. We are affiliated with the Cup team and I can use the resources as I need them but there is me and my engineer and Dave Simba and we stay focused on that and I haven’t had any interaction really with the Cup side in anything they needed or are doing. I told Jack that I thought Ricky needed the very best crew chief, the most technically smart crew chief because those cars are a lot different than what we are used to. I think he deserved going in as a rookie to have the very best. Also I have two small children at home and being a Cup crew chief is a seven day a week, 70-hour a week job. I love being home on Sunday and spending it with my kids right now. I told Jack the other night that I will go to the Cup level again and I will win races for Jack and I will win a championship for Jack and if our paths cross again with Ricky that it would be a dream come true for me. For the last two and a half years from the very first time we sat in a trailer in Phoenix and spit in our hands the three of us in 2010 and said we would stick this out together the ride has been amazing. We had some tough days at the beginning and wrecked a lot of race cars and we missed a race at Nashville and nobody ever gave up or quit. We kept pushing and got where we needed to be last year. That wasn’t enough. We set the bar high. When I got back from the banquet last year and got to the shop I had three guys left from my team from the
championship deal and Jack said that we were going to do this again and put a new team together for Ricky and contend for the
championship. Not one person looked at it any other way.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. CONTINUED -- HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP? “I think it is bigger. Obviously the performances this year was a lot better than last year. I think that is what you have to look at. Obviously it is special having that first championship but when you can go out and you are a car to beat every week then that is what classifies a great year. I felt like we were that car this year. Everybody knew showing up to the racetrack that we were going to have to be beat to win the race. I think that makes this year more special.”
BRIAN FRANCE MENTIONED TODAY ABOUT DIGITIZING CARS IN THE FUTURE. ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO INTERACTING WITH FANS VIA TWITTER? “Are you telling me we are going to be tweeting and driving at the same time? I guess I better start practicing. (laughter) It is always cool to have fans. I tell the kids all the time to not do that. Anything we can do to bring the fans closer to what we do each and every day I think is a good thing. If it wasn’t for fans we wouldn’t be able to be out here doing this sport. We thank them a lot but anything that gets them closer to seeing what we do each day is pretty cool.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED -- “I want to correct an impression that I think some people may have. Ricky didn’t run as many laps in practice probably as he wanted to because we were being careful to make sure we didn’t put too many miles on the engine. The car may not have been set up as well as it was a year ago or has been for most of our races. The reason Ricky didn’t advance more than he did in the race wasn’t because Mike Calinoff was holding him back, it was because most of the race the car didn’t handle and it didn’t handle at the end and that was part of his frustration I am sure. There was a strategy that said that we were not going to take a chance on breaking a part and Mike was being careful to protect a set of tires. So for that reason I think that we weren’t our best in terms of the car setup and that reflected more in the fact that Ricky finished sixth than any strategy or anything the spotter said.”