What’s the deal? Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he doesn’t know — or care

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CHARLOTTE – What is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s status for this season?

Blissfully ignorant.

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.”

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole


TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole


TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.


Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?


Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.