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Stenhouse still hungry after 2011 Nationwide title

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

In his second full season in the Nationwide Series, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the series championship.

Naturally, he wants more.

Doesn't any driver?

Sure, he won two races last season, including a dramatic victory at Iowa over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, who won eight series races in 2011 and finished second in the Sprint Cup Series title race.

Stenhouse, however, sees plenty of room for improvement.

"I sat down and looked at the things I needed to do as a driver to be better. There was a lot of things at the beginning of (last) season. I felt like our last 10 races, I feel like we did a lot of things almost exactly like we needed to do," Stenhouse said.

"The things that I did throughout the beginning of the season, where we gave points away, is really what we've focused on during the off-season."

Stenhouse could start with a better finish in today's Drive4CPOD 300 in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, where he finished eighth last season.

In fact, that was the best of his three appearances on NASCAR's superspeedways. He finished 38th at Talladega, Ala., and 27th in the July race at Daytona last season.

As much as Stenhouse enjoyed the championship in 2011, he is intent on getting more out of 2012.

"Looking at everything as a whole, there's a lot we can get better at. I think I said earlier in the off-season that I feel like we could win six to 10 races and the reason I came up with that number is my crew chief and I looked at how many races that we led late and finished second or third," he said.

"There were five or six there that we felt we gave away late in the going, so I feel if we do everything right, we can have a good number of wins and hopefully win the championship as well."

It sounds like a lofty goal.

There are reasons to believe it's possible.

Edwards - last season's most frequent visitor to Victory Lane - is not running the series in 2012. Many of the competitors Stenhouse beat to win last season's championship are returning this season.

There will be some new faces, such as Austin Dillon, who won the Truck title last season, and Danica Patrick, who will run a full season after two seasons running partial schedules.

There also have been changes made to Stenhouse's team.

"The good thing is our crew chief, Mike Kelley, is still the same and we've got our core guys that are the same," Stenhouse said.

"We've got a few new additions that Mike has worked with in the past."

Stenhouse hopes to do some extra racing this season, running some races in the Cup series. He will make his second start in Sunday's Daytona 500.

"I told (team owner Jack Roush) at the end of our 2011 season that I wasn't in a hurry to get to the Sprint Cup level. If I could run full-time Nationwide again, that's what I would like to do and that I would like to run some Cup races especially if we were planning on going full-time in '13," he said.

"That's how I envisioned it going, so we'll have to see where that goes."

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