Various issues again plagued Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the No. 17 team, only this time he was able to overcome them for his best finish of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Even so, Stenhouse was still bummed he didn’t finish better than fourth. An ill-timed caution, the final one of the race on Lap 471, took away Stenhouse’s advantage of having a car that performed well on longer runs as he was confident he could catch leader Kyle Larson.
A restart with 22 laps to go was not ideal, and although Stenhouse gave Larson his best shot and at one time got to the inside of him, he eventually faded.
“I wish it would have stayed green,” said Stenhouse. “That would have been nice, but then that caution came out and I still thought we were going to have a shot at it. Our balance was just a little bit different with the new tires they got shipped in [from Goodyear], so, all in all, a great effort for our Sunny D team all weekend long.
“Hopefully, we can get some momentum going and carry it on the rest of the season.”
Practice issues in three of the season’s first seven races put Stenhouse behind the eight-ball going into the race by having to use his backup car. Bristol, however, has always been a kind to the Roush Fenway Racing driver and he was looked to be a solid contender from the opening practice session Friday.
A fourth-place qualifying effort for the Food City 500 was a season best. But it took just 62 laps before things appeared to – again – be headed downhill.
Through no fault of his own, Stenhouse’s No. 17 was tagged on the left-rear by a loose Erik Jones on Lap 62 and sent for a spin. Fortunately, he avoided hitting either of Bristol’s walls and the rest of the competition also avoided him.
Restarting 27th, Stenhouse made his way to 10th by the end of stage one and was then penalized by an uncontrolled tire on Lap 130. After finishing sixth in stage two, the team was called for having too many crew members over the wall on Lap 257 as they made multiple pit stops to repair damage Stenhouse suffered during a messy restart.
And to top the day off, Stenhouse also had to battle back from a lap down.
“We were really, really strong and I felt confident coming into the race yesterday and today,” Stenhouse said. “We fought adversity. We lost track position multiple times and had to pass a lot of cars to get back to where we were. Brian [Pattie, crew chief] made a great call coming down pit road and taking tires before that long green flag run that we had.
“We got into second and I was hoping it would just go green to the end, knowing that we had better tires than the 42, who was the class of the field all day. Then we restarted there at the end and Brian said he didn’t get to really check the stagger on these tires and maybe make an adjustment with it. We didn’t take fuel and that sometimes tightens you up a little bit, but, all in all, a great weekend for us.”