Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out at Roush next year; Chris Buescher in No. 17

7 Comments

Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday afternoon that this season will be the last in the No. 17 Ford for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will be replaced by Chris Buescher.

Stenhouse, in his seventh season driving the No. 17, has failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons with the team. Stenhouse enters Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23rd in the points. He finished 18th in the points last year. He won two races in 2016 to qualify for the playoffs and finished a career-high 13th in the points. He is winless in 83 races.

Buescher returns to Roush, where he won the 2015 Xfinity championship but left to drive for Front Row Motorsports and JTG Daugherty Racing the past three seasons. Buescher enters this weekend 20th in points. He finished a career-high 16th in points in 2016 for Front Row Motorsports, earning a playoff spot with his Pocono win. That remains his lone Cup victory. He’s winless in 115 races. Buescher is one of three drivers to make the playoffs in their rookie season, joining Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Stenhouse had a contract with the team through 2021, but contracts often have performance-related clauses and other outs that can permit drivers and teams to vacate the remaining terms of a deal.

JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Tad Geschickter issued the following statement.

“We were in the final strokes of the contract when learning that Chris has gone in a different direction. We appreciate all of the efforts from Chris through the past three seasons at JTG Daugherty Racing. When the dust settles, we will begin the process of searching for our next driver to fill the No. 37 seat for the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.”

With today’s news, Stenhouse will not appear on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET today as previously scheduled.

Here’s the release from the team:

Roush Fenway Racing has announced that Chris Buescher will make his return to the team, taking the wheel of its No. 17 NASCAR Cup Series Ford in 2020. The team will part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

“We can’t say enough about Ricky and his contributions to Roush Fenway Racing,” said team co-owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Roush. “We’re proud to have been a part of Ricky’s development from ARCA to Xfinity and ultimately the Cup Series. He has served as a great representative to our partners, while helping to accumulate numerous accolades, wins and multiple championships on the racetrack. We wish him well as he enters the next chapter of his career.”

Buescher, a product of Roush Fenway’s development driver program, returns to the team that he led to a NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) title in 2015.

“We are certainly excited to have Chris back in the fold at Roush Fenway Racing,” said Roush. “He has a long history with our organization and we’ve always been a big fan of Chris and his racing style. We have watched his progress with great interest over the last couple of seasons and we are looking forward to having him in the No. 17 as we continue to grow our program next season.”

Buescher first joined Roush Fenway as a development driver in 2009, winning the 2012 ARCA Series championship in a partnership with Roulo Brothers Racing, before making his NXS debut for Roush Fenway in relief of Trevor Bayne in 2011. He moved to full time in the NXS in 2014, and in 2015 brought home Jack Roush’s eighth NASCAR Championship; dominating the series while leading the NXS standings for 24 consecutive weeks.

Stenhouse has piloted the No. 17 car for the past seven seasons after taking over for Matt Kenseth in 2013.

Buescher drove the No. 34 Ford during his Cup rookie season in 2016, racing his way into the playoffs via a victory at Pocono. He has served as the driver of the No. 37 Cup entry for the past three seasons and is currently 20th in the NASCAR Cup point standings.

Fifth Third Bank rewews multiyear sponsorship deal with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Roush Fenway Racing will retain Fifth Third Bank’s primary sponsorship of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 17 Ford in a multiyear deal.

Fifth Third Bank has sponsored five races annually with Stenhouse since the 2014 season. It joined the team in 2012.

In a news conference announcing the deal Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway before the Southern 500, Tom Heiks, group regional president for Fifth Third Bank, said Stenhouse’s two victories this season weren’t a factor in its decision.

“We enjoy seeing Ricky do well and seeing the team do well,” Heiks said. “We spend a lot of time with these guys and know how hard they work (and) how tenacious they are. These guys deliver success, but but they always are there for us.”

Team president Steve Newmark said Roush Fenway had been able to renew eight or nine companies whose contracts were up in the past two years.

“You try to align with partners that stick with you through ups and down,” Newmark said. “This is validation of that, though you’re always hungry for more. The sport works for a lot of our partners because of the NASCAR fan base.”

Here’s the release from the team: 

CINCINNATI – Fifth Third Bank (NASDAQ: FITB) has renewed its relationship with Roush Fenway Racing as primary sponsor on the No. 17 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford with driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in a multiyear deal.

“I’m so appreciative to continue racing with Fifth Third Bank on the car. It’s great to have partners who believe in the sport and are committed long-term to supporting the business of racing,” said Stenhouse.

Fifth Third Bank came onboard with Roush Fenway Racing in 2012 and has served as a primary sponsor on the No. 17 Ford for the past six seasons.

“We’re excited to extend our relationship with Roush Fenway Racing and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.,” said Matt Jauchius, chief marketing officer for Fifth Third Bank. “To hear Ricky exclaim our tagline, ‘that’s Banking a Fifth Third Better, boys’ when he captured his first victory this season was incredible. We’re banking on another successful run with him behind the wheel.”

Stenhouse captured his first two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins while sporting the Fifth Third colors during the 2017 season. He will make his 173rd career Monster Energy Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on September 3, where the No. 17 Fifth Third Ford will feature a throwback paint scheme inspired by a Darrell Waltrip 1997 paint scheme.

“The Roush team has been an outstanding partner for the past six seasons, and this goes beyond the race track. With their help, we’ve become the preferred bank of the motorsports industry, providing strategic financial advice and services to teams, tracks, drivers, suppliers and corporate sponsors,” remarked Tom Heiks, Group Regional President for Fifth Third Bank.

The Bank is actively involved within the racing industry, serving on the North Carolina Motorsports Association (NCMA) board, sponsoring the NCMA Industry Tribute Awards Banquet and exhibiting at the Performance Racing Industry Tradeshow. Fifth Third also supports numerous motorsports charities including the NASCAR Foundation, Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities, B.R.A.K.E.S. and Motor Racing Outreach.

“It’s a privilege to continue our relationship with Fifth Third Bank,” said Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “There are few sponsors in NASCAR who have as deep of an understanding of the industry and whose primary objective is to serve the wellbeing of businesses and individuals in the sport.”

In addition to its partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, Fifth Third Bank is the Official Bank of Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500, and a partner with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the IndyCar series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. triumphs at Daytona, snatching win from upset contender David Ragan

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his second consecutive restrictor-plate race, capturing the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stenhouse snatched the lead from David Ragan on an overtime restart and led the final two laps in his No. 17 Ford. It’s the second career victory for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, who won at Talladega Superspeedway in May.

“This validates what we did at Talladega,” Stenhouse said. “I want to first off thank all the troops that have fallen for our country, for our freedom. That is most important right now. “We have been working hard at Roush Fenway and this pushes us further along.”

Clint Bowyer finished second, followed by Paul Menard, Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman. Ragan, who was trying to qualify underdog Front Row Motorsports for the playoffs for the second consecutive season, finished a season-best sixth in a race filled with multicar crashes.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” said Ragan, who chose the inside lane for the restart despite the oustide lane being fast and then missed a chance to throw a block on Stenhouse after pulling away from second-place Ty Dillon.

The race featured a record 14 caution flags involving 27 drivers, and several of the fastest cars were eliminated early.

Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the Turn 1 wall on the 52nd lap after getting hit by Menard because Earnhardt had slowed with an apparent flat tire.

After falling two laps down for repairs, he climbed back to the lead lap and into the top 10 when he was collected in a four-car crash resulting from a spin by Kevin Harvick, who led three times for seven laps before a cut tire ended his race.

A seven-car wreck on Lap 153 featured Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet getting airborne and a heavy hit for Kurt Busch (neither was injured).

 A 10-car crash on Lap 71 that began with a cut tire for Kyle Busch eliminated Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon.

Defending race winner Brad Keselowski, whose No. 2 Ford led a race-high 35 laps, hit the wall with another cut tire on Lap 117, finishing 31st.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Matt Kenseth

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Michael McDowell finished a career-best fourth. … Brendan Gaughan‘s seventh was his best showing since a sixth in the 2004 season finale. … Corey LaJoie earned a career-best 11th. … Ty Dillon led seven laps and was in front on a restart with two laps remaining in the scheduled distance. … JTG Daugherty Racing earned top 10s with drivers A.J. Allmendinger (eighth) and Chris Buescher (10th).

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Where to start? With 40 laps, five of the prerace favorites with the fastest cars (Harvick, Truex, Keselowski, Earnhardt, Logano and Truex) were out. … Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were eliminated by crashes after running well. … Danica Patrick crashed out of a race for the sixth time this season. … Ryan Sieg, DJ Kennington and Cole Whitt were out within the first 15 laps because of problems related to engine trouble.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We just blew a tire. That’s the way it goes. It just blew out right in the middle of the corner. I hate to wreck half the field. That’s a part of what we do.” — Harvick

WHAT’S NEXT: The Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at 7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, July 8 on NBCSN

Ryan: Life in the Danica Patrick shadow never has bothered Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
4 Comments

Sometimes, even Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s girlfriend seems more miffed than he is about the frequent overshadowing for the permanently less renowned half of racing’s most highly publicized couple.

Leaving a restaurant in New Hampshire after a rare joint interview in July 2013, a worker wished Patrick good luck for the weekend.

“You know Ricky’s racing Sunday, too,” she bristled with a steely glare. “You can root for him, too!”

Stenhouse just smiled and clutched Patrick a little more closely as they walked away.

It always has been how he nonchalantly and non-combatively handles the dynamics of a relationship fraught with the stress of disproportionate celebrity.

“I don’t mind being known as her boyfriend,” Stenhouse said Sunday after the first win of his Cup career. “She doesn’t mind being known as my girlfriend. It goes either way, and we couldn’t be in a better place right now.”

Though Patrick’s incomparable media savvy automatically receives credit as she is the unrelenting focus of the pair, Stenhouse’s win at Talladega reinforced the overlooked reasons his demeanor is as important to the bedrock of their bond.

He is the archetype of the strong, silent type from the not-quite Deep South (yes, he hails from Mississippi but his hometown is a half-day’s drive from the Gulf Shores).

He comes off as self-assured, uncomplicated and completely secure in his ability and his lot in life – which would seem to be necessary attributes for dating the most famous woman in the history of auto racing.

Patrick is equally strong-willed but naturally much more visible than her boyfriend.

Besides the inherent attention from being the first woman to lead either the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500, Patrick also thrusts herself into the limelight by hawking “athleisure” (via her Warrior clothing line), healthy food (a cooking show seems a given for the former winner of a Chopped celebrity edition) and life coaching (her how-to book “Pretty Intense” is coming in January).

It would seem understandable (perhaps even expected by many) for some measure of resentment to manifest itself for Stenhouse.

Yet the 29-year-old with the perennial smile and spate of facial hair (sometimes a goatee, sometimes a Jeff Gordon-esque pencil moustache) always seems nonplussed by questions about the incessant attention foisted upon his girlfriend and whether it defines him.

It might be impossible to explain in full how they make such a high-profile relationship work, but Patrick and Stenhouse deserve immense respect for deftly navigating (at least outwardly) the logistics, politics and pressures of mixing business with pleasure on a national stage.

There is a certain yin and yang to the relationship with Stenhouse’s affinity for dirt bikes and down-home sensibility balancing Patrick’s taste for Michigan Avenue sophistication and societal transcendence.

“I’m just so, so proud of him,” Patrick told reporters in victory lane. “He works his butt off. He works harder than any driver I know. He works tirelessly.”

This is what often gets missed in the glamour shots of a tuxedo-clad Stenhouse (avec mullet) accompanying Patrick to various red-carpet events.

There rarely is visual evidence of the crack-of-dawn wakeup calls necessary for Stenhouse to build unity within the No. 17 Ford team.

“Ricky has had ample opportunity to mail it in, yet he’s at the shop at 6:30 a.m. working with the guys on occasion,” Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark said. “He has really taken that leadership mantle.”

It’s a vestige of the 2010 season when Stenhouse was demoted to grunt work by team owner Jack Roush for several weeks after too many Xfinity Series crashes.

He responded by winning the next two series championships and earning a ticket to Cup at the time the relationship with Patrick became public.

“She supports me through anything I need to do, whether it’s spend more time at the shop, whether it’s we need to fly somewhere a little bit later because I need to spend a little bit more time with the guys at the shop or want to go to dirt races or anything like that,” he said. “She knows how hard that I’ve worked. She understands that I’m going to go to the shop a lot, and to have that support and her knowing where I’m coming from is great to have. “

That blue-collar work ethic might be most telling in explaining what does seem to grate on Stenhouse – a lack of recognition for the quiet breakthrough season he was enjoying before Sunday’s exclamation point at Talladega.

Though the expiration date is fast approaching to be considered part of NASCAR’s youth movement (Stenhouse turns 30 in October), there has been scant regard paid to his backstory (beyond Danica, of course) as the 2017 hype machine breathlessly kicked into gear to spin the yarns of Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.

How many knew that Talladega was the closest approximation of a hometown track for Stenhouse (a native of Olive Branch, Mississippi)?

How many know the full story of how this kid from a suburb of Memphis (not exactly a USAC hotbed) became an open-wheel star?

Maybe now the perceptions will change even as Stenhouse’s actions remain constant.

As well-documented as Larson’s rise has been, Stenhouse’s isn’t much different. He didn’t bring wheelbarrows full of cash to reach NASCAR. It’s more of an untold Cinderella story.

Tony Stewart (who calls Stenhouse “son”) plucked him from the obscurity of driving dirt (in his father’s sprint cars), and Jack Roush (with Smoke’s blessing) then gave him a chance in stock cars.

There is no question that Roush and Stewart saw prodigious talent and raw speed in Stenhouse.

Perhaps they also saw an innate quality for managing the spotlight – while hardly worrying about being outside its glare.

XXX

He is Talladega’s 11th first-time winner in Cup, but Stenhouse’s victory on the 2.66-mile oval wasn’t as capricious as others in the past (hello, Bobby Hillin Jr.).

Aside from a crash in the Daytona 500 and a lost weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stenhouse consistently has been a top-10 performer.

If not for a late mistake at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where he qualified fourth and was headed for a top five) and subpar pit stops at Auto Club Speedway (where he lost more spots in the pits than he gained on track), Stenhouse might be ranked top 10 in points heading to Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway – a 1.5-mile track that is in the playoffs and a good benchmark for title contenders.

“My confidence has been really high all year,” he said. “We know what racetracks we need to work on. I think Kansas will be a good test for us. … We’re continuing to strive to make our cars better, and I feel confident that guys back at the shop, (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) and everyone, there’s not many teams that pay attention to the details I feel like that the 17 team does.”

The influence of Pattie could play a key role in ensuring Roush Fenway Racing avoids a repeat of a precipitous decline in results last summer. As a crew chief for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009, Pattie showed he knew how to leverage consistency to championship contention.

It might sound boring or clichéd in its simplicity but acknowledging the monotony of a title run also can be its foundation.

“Just focus, focus one week at a time, execute, and after the checkered flag falls on a Sunday, we’ll regroup on Monday and start over,” Pattie said Sunday. “Just try and not get ahead of ourselves.  That’s just the biggest part.  Obviously we’ve got better people and better spots and the cars are faster.  That helps tremendously.”

XXX

Talladega seemed more like a traffic jam than normal Sunday. Per usual, cars were lined up three abreast and 10 rows deep for much of the race.

What was unusual this time was how difficult it was to go anywhere.

“I thought it was super hard to pass,” said runner-up Jamie McMurray, whose sublime aggression in the pack was more magnified because so many others were struggling with advancement. “I don’t know how everybody else felt. Until the tires wore out and the cars started sliding around, it was just three wide, and there really wasn’t anywhere to go.  I actually raced in about 30th for quite a bit of the race because there (were) no holes.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has struggled on plate tracks since last year after finishing third or better in all four races in 2015, said some tweaks to the engine have left cars stalling out.

“We just kind of get stuck side by side too easy so it’s harder to make passes,” he said. “It changed the way the draft worked and I really haven’t liked it as well.

“It took a lot of the speed out of the cars as far as they create runs and maintain runs and how you put tougher passes and do things on the track. Now everybody is stuck side by side. If you not in the first or second row, you’re really just kind of riding behind the guys nowhere to go. Because the cars don’t create the runs like they used to.”

Nearly half the top 10 finishers at Talladega also started in the top 10 (a number that might have been higher without the massive pileup with 20 to go). Qualifying tends to mean little at plate tracks, but as the opener in the second round of the playoffs in October, it would seem to behoove teams to focus on starting up front – or developing creative strategies to get there — if Sunday is a harbinger.

XXX

When two storied teams break triple-digit winless streaks in NASCAR’s premier series, it makes a strong case for legitimate parity so far this season.

The downturn for Joe Gibbs Racing certainly has contributed to the diversity of eight winners in 10 races. But Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing also have put themselves in position more often to end their skids.

XXX

Talladega’s 80,000-seat grandstands were much closer to capacity than Richmond’s 60,000-seat venue last week, prompting some Twitter grumbling among the NASCAR industry about why the media focus on empty instead of full.

Yeah! Darn media narratives! So let’s just compare the 2017 crowd to … oh, wait.

Tracks don’t provide attendance figures. Pity.

If you want to highlight the positive stories, then provide the numbers that help tell them.

XXX

Twice in the past seven races, Kyle Busch was leading when the final caution flag flew, and in another race, he had the strongest car until the final stage.

Will his fortunes change at Kansas, where he enters as the defending race winner and with four consecutive top fives at the 1.5-mile oval?

Hard to say. But you can count on at least one person to keep picking Busch until the No. 18 wins.

Dustin Long contributed to this report from Talladega.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s team receives minor penalty from Texas

Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brian Pattie, crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was fined $10,000 for a missing lug nut on the No. 17 Ford after finishing 14th Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

There were no other penalties in the Cup or Xfinity series from the race weekend at Texas.

Also Wednesday morning, Team Penske’s appeal of a penalty to Brad Keselowski’s team was denied.

Click here to see the penalty report from Texas.