For Ricky Stenhouse Jr., this week’s two-day organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is of the utmost importance.
“We were strong at Atlanta [Motor Speedway] last year and I think that kind of gave us hope going into Las Vegas that we would be kind of ready to go. But when we got there we weren’t near as fast as what we wanted to be, and we struggled for a little bit of speed,” Stenhouse said, reflecting on his 33rd-place finish in March. “Trevor [Bayne] was better than we were, for sure, but we still, as an organization, weren’t exactly where we needed to be.”
Stenhouse and the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team will be one of approximately 16 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams participating in the test, which begins Wednesday. Las Vegas is a high-speed, smooth 1.5-mile track – the kind of track that wasn’t Stenhouse’s strongest area last year. While he excelled on superspeedways with two wins, Stenhouse did not earn a single top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile track last season. The nine top-10s he earned came on short tracks, the 1-mile Phoenix, 2-mile Michigan, and the superspeedways.
“That what we want to get better at and I think the test will help us see where we stack up,” Stenhouse continued. “There are some really good racecars coming out … so we’ll see how we stack up against those and, obviously, we [go there] twice now, so I think that’s important to get some good data.”
Per the routine of each offseason, Roush Fenway has been busy building new cars. Stenhouse will drive one this week during the test, with cars prepared for 1.5-milers getting some extra attention.
“We’re putting all our emphasis on it, and our mile-and-a-half cars are something you can carry over to short tracks,” Stenhouse said. “Jimmy Fennig has been working really hard again on our speedway program, so he’s kind of off in the corner doing that, making sure that we’re ready for the speedways, which really paid off for us to focus on. We got two wins on them last year and put us in the playoffs.
“So, doesn’t matter which races you win, they all put you in the playoffs as long as it’s a points race. So for us, I think it’s very important to put a lot of focus on our mile-and-a-half program knowing that’s where we struggled.”
Going into this year, Stenhouse also revealed there had been some shakeup on his team, mostly with the pit crew.
“With switching over to a five-person pit crew, they’ve been practicing really hard and actually got a few new people on my pit crew, so that’s something we’re looking forward to as well,” Stenhouse said.