“We’re obviously going for the driver’s championship,” said Stenhouse prior to Nationwide practice at Dover. “We’ve got to get Carl the owner’s championship (in Nationwide) and then we’ve got to get Ford the manufacturer’s championship (in Nationwide), so there are a lot of things going. Ford is putting a lot of effort into it and we’ve got a lot of things to accomplish this year and I think we can do it as a race team.”
The tale of two polar opposite seasons for Stenhouse is quite remarkable. The 23 year old Mississippi native saw the lowest of lows in 2010, starting the season with five straight finishes of 25th or worse and five DNF’s in the first 12 races. A short stint at Phoenix showed hope with a ninth place finish, but it was short lived.
The next six races saw Stenhouse finish on the lead lap just once and after failing to qualify in Nashville, Stenhouse was benched by car owner Jack Roush at Kentucky. After watching Brian Ickler pilot his No. 6 Ford, Stenhouse was given a second chance.
Just three weeks later, Stenhouse earned a career best third place finish at Daytona, his first of three top-five finishes in 2010. Stenhouse continued to mature on and off the track, overcoming the largest points deficit in NASCAR history to win the Rookie of the Year award and well, he wasn’t done there.
“After the way last year went, struggling so bad the first part of the year and turning it around at the end of the year, it really makes you appreciate where we are right now as a race team.”
Stenhouse talked about the significance of a possible 2011 championship.
“The same guys are on my car as we had last year and it would just mean a lot to everybody at Ford, my family and everybody on this race team to get that championship.
“We came into the year thinking that we were gonna be able to run for it and now that we’ve got six races left and have a shot at it, it’s exactly where we need to be.”
If recent history is any indication, Stenhouse’s chances at the title are bright. Of the three championship contenders – Stenhouse, Elliot Sadler (-14), Reed Sorenson (-47) – Stenhouse has the best average finish at the upcoming six tracks with an 11.6 compared to Sorenson’s 14.7 and Sadler’s 22.0.
“I’m really looking at the last six race tracks,” said Stenhouse. “They’re really good race tracks for us. We’ve run really well at the rest of them. We’ve got to go out and do the same thing we’ve done all year and that’s go out and consistently run in the top five and challenge for some wins.”
How does Stenhouse stack up at Dover International Speedway?
Stenhouse has improved each time out while visiting Miles the Monster. He was 18th in his track debut in the 2010 spring race, finished 11th in this event last year and fourth in May.
“For us, every time I’ve come to Dover we’ve had a better finish. We finished fourth the last race here and had a really fast Mustang, but we just needed a little bit more so if we can make that a little bit better, I think, obviously, we’ll have a good race here.”
With the homestretch to the championship in full force, will we see Stenhouse continue to march to stardom or will the veteran forces of Sadler and Sorenson prevail?