CHARLOTTE – What is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s status for this season?
The Roush Fenway Racing driver is entering his fourth season in the Sprint Cup Series but claims he hasn’t looked at his contract to determine whether it’s the last in his current deal with the team.
“I have no clue when my contract ends,” said Stenhouse, who reworked his contract with Roush as a Cup rookie in 2013 after winning consecutive Xfinity Series championships. “I know it goes for a while.”
Driver deals in NASCAR’s premier series generally run for three years and are concurrent with a primary sponsor. Stenhouse, though, has been with Roush since 2008, and the organization is known for signing its young drivers to long-term deals. He also has had a rotating cast of primary sponsors in Cup.
During the team’s Media Tour event Wednesday morning, Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said he didn’t have the details of Stenhouse’s deal at his fingertips but also wouldn’t be likely to share them as a matter of team policy.
“Our intent is for Ricky to be an anchor and with us for the long haul,” Newmark said. “We’re pretty committed to working together to make this a successful partnership.
“I think there’s a high degree of confidence that we’ll show significant improvement this year. And if not, then we’ll have to sit down and figure it out, because we’re not going to accept the level we were at last year.”
Stenhouse finished 25th in the 2015 points standings with three top 10s, two fewer than the previous season. His No. 17 Ford wasn’t alone in its struggles – Roush failed to place a driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time – and that partially might explain Stenhouse’s calm demeanor while analyzing his disappointment last year.
“Freaking out about it isn’t going to really do anything,” he said. “I’ve never been one to get super excited. I’ve never been one to freak out very much.
“I just stay even-keel and go about my business. But I feel really good about the relationship I’ve had with (team owner) Jack (Roush) over the years and this company. We’ve had some rough years and some really good years. We haven’t had the years that we’ve wanted in the Sprint Cup Series, but over the last two years, I don’t think anyone has.”
Stenhouse, 28, said there were encouraging signs with crew chief Nick Sandler toward the end of last season, and if the team can solve its front-end handling problems, the horsepower is present for a turnaround.
The Olive Branch, Miss., native has enjoyed a refreshingly successful offseason, winning a USAC dirt race at Du Quoin, Ill., and reaching the A Main at the Chili Bowl (24 of 336 entrants make the feature race).
“I think running sprint cars, dirt cars just builds a little confidence back into me and keeps you sharp for going to run NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stuff,” Stenhouse said. “The last year I was really running dirt cars was 2012, so I think I might go run a few more.”