Stenhouse leads Roush qualifying effort with best start since 2013

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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It’s beginning to sound like a broken record: Roush Fenway Racing has accomplished something it hasn’t in a long time.

When the Coca-Cola 600 begins Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jack Roush’s team will see all three of its entries – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (third), Greg Biffle (sixth) and Trevor Bayne (10th) – starting in the top 10 for the first time since the 2013 race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stenhouse will roll off with his best starting position since qualifying second at Kansas Speedway in 2013, his rookie year.

“Being in the top four in every (qualifying) session there was really big for us,” said Stenhouse. “We’ve been fast at times in qualifying but never put every round together and stayed that consistent, so I’m really proud of the team for the adjustments that they made throughout the qualifying session there.”

Stenhouse now has four starts in the top five this season (Atlanta, Texas, Dover, Charlotte). His only top-five result this year came at Auto Club Speedway where he started 18th. The average starting place for the No. 17 is 12.5.

The fourth-year driver attributes Roush’s rediscovered speed to an overhaul of how the team operates.

“I feel like it’s everything, but I think we’ve gotten better with our mechanical grip, our aero department,” Stenhouse said. “I feel like our simulation has gotten better. The engineers that we’ve brought in and the leadership that we have in each department has been better. The way the shop is run. We changed everything this offseason and I feel like so far everything is for the better, and we’re trending in the right direction.”

Through 12 races Stenhouse is 19th in the standings, his best at this point since being 17th in his rookie season.

“The last couple of years was rough,” Stenhouse said. “I still felt like I could do it, but we weren’t getting it done on the race track, so then obviously you kind of wonder what you need to get the job done. Luckily for me, everybody at Roush Fenway never really talked about giving up on me. Everybody believed in my ability to get the job done and we kept working on our process and our program to get the job done with getting better race cars and I felt like I was really in the shop and really engaged with the guys to get our cars better and still am.”

Stenhouse said he and his teammates have been “more hands on” this season, which has seen Roush earn two top fives and five top-10 finishes through 12 races.

“(That) has been paying off as well because the 17 team can’t do it by ourselves,” Stenhouse said.

Biffle and Bayne have had their confidences boosted enough that both could claim they were “disappointed” with where they’ll start Sunday.

“That’s a refreshing thing to be disappointed with and all of our teammates – third, sixth and 10th – that’s a pretty good day for Roush Fenway Racing,” said Bayne. “That’s kind of back to where we were in 2011, ’12 when things were looking up for us. We’re glad to be headed the right direction.”

Sunday will be Bayne’s fifth top-10 start of the year. In 2015, he only did it twice, at Daytona and Talladega.

Biffle will start in the top 10 for the first time this season. His previous best was 13th at Phoenix.

“It’s good to be disappointed with sixth,” Biffle said. “I think we had a chance at the front row for sure. I beat them in (Turns) 1 and 2, I promise. I think I beat the (Martin Truex Jr.) and (Joey Logano) in one and two, but I didn’t turn to the bottom in (Turns) 3 and 4 and gave up some speed down there.”

Biffle has spent his entire full-time Sprint Cup career with Roush, starting in 2003. But Biffle hasn’t visited victory lane since 2013 at Michigan.

“Our cars are way better this year,” Biffle said. “We’re not there yet, which kind of shows, but we’re a lot closer. Now the important thing is 30-lap speed. We’ve got one-lap speed. Now we just need to translate that into 30-lap speed and that’s gonna really be the key for us.”