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Stenhouse hopes aggressive style pays off at Bristol

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 25, 2018 at 5:14 PM

NASHVILLE — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recently drew criticism for his aggressive driving at Daytona.

Luckily for Stenhouse, that kind of action is encouraged at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford has found something out — to be successful at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile," one has to be aggressive.

Bristol has been one of the best tracks for the 30-year-old driver from Olive Branch, Mississippi. He has two second-place, four top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts around the .533-mile concrete oval.

"I always look forward to Bristol because it's a track we've been so close to winning at, but we've never got to finish it off," Stenhouse said during a visit at Tennessee Highway Patrol headquarters. "We finished fourth in the spring and was battling for the win at the last restart. It's a track where we could win and get in the playoffs."

That fourth-place finish in the Food City 500 is his best finish through 20 races this season. That aggressive attitude was a key to his great run in the spring according to Stenhouse, an accomplished open-wheel driver and a two-time champion in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

"Bristol, there are a lot of things that come into play," he said. "The last time, we had good pit stops and you have to be aggressive with your race car. Your spotter has to let you know when you're clear because you're so close. We bump each other and move each other out of the way."

DAYTONA AFTERMATH

Stenhouse's trip to Nashville included a visit to the new Top Golf facility. Golf is his passion outside of racing. He plays in a league with other NASCAR drivers and has played in a celebrity Pro-Am at Lake Tahoe. It was a relaxing day after he had been the center of controversy just a couple of weeks earlier.

He was surprised at the negative reaction of fans, considering one of the wrecks took out NASCAR's top villain, Kyle Busch.

"Kyle has a lot more fans than I thought," he said. "You hear a lot of boos when he's introduced, but he has a lot of passionate fans on social media. That's cool. That's what this sport is about, how passionate our fans are. I left everything out there at Daytona. We raced hard, raced aggressive, won a couple of stages and came up short of winning the race. But that's what we had to do."

Both of Stenhouse's two career Monster Energy Cup Series victories came on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. With the Roush organization struggling on the other tracks on the circuit, he saw as a chance to win the race and qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff.

"Unfortunately, we're in the position with our team where we needed a win — but we also have to gain points," said Stenhouse, currently 16th in the standings, 28 points behind Alex Bowman for the final playoff spot. "The other part of it is Daytona and Talladega are our tracks to do that. We want to compete and win races at every track, but realistically that's not where we're at as an organization. Being aggressive at Daytona and Talladega the last few years have helped me get good finishes.

"I definitely caused the wreck with Kyle, but I felt like a few of us had a part in the first wreck that took out everybody. But that's part of it."

ROUSH STRUGGLES AND BRISTOL HOPE

Roush Fenway Racing made the announcement back in April that former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth would be sharing the ride of the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne for the rest of the season. While Stenhouse has been a longtime friend of Bayne, he has enjoyed the different perspective which Kenseth, who drove for Joe Gibbs Racing last season, has brought to the table.

"Matt coming over has been nice," Stenhouse said. "Coming from a different organization, he told me how those race cars drove and how they drive different compared to ours. The things I've been asking for in the race cars are the things he said those (Gibbs) cars would do. We have to focus on getting our cars to turn and building a better quality car than what we had in the spring to have a shot at competing for the win."

Bristol is a track which gives him hope. It reminds Stenhouse of racing at a weekly track on a Saturday night, but on a much, much larger scale. With so many famous finishes at Bristol, he also wants his own Bristol moment. Most of all, he feels it's a place where the driver can make a bigger difference than at most tracks.

"Bristol, the way the track is, you can take an underperforming car and really put it on your back and run up to the front," he said. "You've seen some underfunded teams and lower-budgeted cars run well and get good finishes at Bristol."

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