Title race tied, defending champ seeks focus
Thursday, Nov. 08, 2012
Elliott Sadler climbs out of his car on pit road after qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
Nationwide driver Elliott Sadler waits his turn during qualifying for the today's NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 20: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drives the #6 Cargill/Sam's Club Ford during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 20, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
Driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. climbs out of his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 29: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 Cargill/Rancher's Reserve Ford, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 29, 2012 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Maybe it shows a driver and a series that are getting better.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a vastly improved driver and one with impressive statistics to back it up over a year ago, but he is having a far more difficult time locking up a second Nationwide Series championship.
In 2011, Stenhouse won his first NASCAR title behind a pair of victories and a 45-point margin over runner-up Elliott Sadler.
Entering Saturdays Great Clips 200 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., Stenhouse and Sadler are tied with 1,170 points each with two races remaining.
Stenhouse has six wins this season and Sadler has four.
Last year it was cool getting our first (championship), and then to be able to back it up, I think that would be a big accomplishment, Stenhouse said.
I think it's been tough. I feel like weve performed better this year, but we found ourselves still behind much of the year.
It seems strange, given Stenhouse's win margin.
I think last year, I think I made less mistakes actually. I think this year we're in more contention to win races, and so I think sometimes I lose track of that we've got a championship to win, and I go out to win races, he said.
Weve kind of got to get back to last year where we don't make any mistakes the last races. But I don't think it's any easier. I think it's actually a little tougher to get your second one in a row.
But were up for the challenge.
The 24-year-old native of Olive Branch, Miss., already knows he wont be returning to Nationwide next season at least not on a fulltime basis so this season may be Stenhouses last chance at another title for some time.
Stenhouse will move up to the Sprint Cup Series next season, driving the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse will take over for Matt Kenseth, who is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing.
With the points race all tied up, could there be any more pressure with only two races remaining?
Stenhouse insists hes faced it all season.
I think it doesn't really come from outside pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself and on our race team, he said.
I think if you make a mistake, it had better be early in the race so you can bounce back from it. But there's definitely a lot of pressure on everybody running for a championship, and it doesn't really matter if it's a Nationwide Series championship or your local dirt track series championship.
Its tough to win championships no matter what. So yeah, that pressure is there.