Stenhouse chasing 2nd straight title
Winning another Nationwide Series championship is proving more difficult
Friday, Nov. 09, 2012
Perhaps it’s a sign of a driver and a series showing vast improvement.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a vastly improved driver – and one with impressive statistics to back it up – over a year ago, yet he is having a far more difficult time in winning a second Nationwide Series championship.
In 2011, Stenhouse won his first NASCAR title behind a pair of victories and a fairly significant margin of 45 points in the series standings over runner up Elliott Sadler.
Entering Saturday’s 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 so far this season while Sadler has four. The reigning series champion would win the tiebreaker should the points still be tied two weeks from now.
“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 we’ve performed better this year than we have last year, but we found ourselves still behind much of the year.”
It seems a strange prospect given how many more times Stenhouse has ended up in Victory Lane this season.
“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.
“We’ve 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 we’re up for the challenge.”
The 24-year-old native of Olive Branch, Miss., already knows he won’t be returning to Nationwide next season – at least not on a full-time basis – so this season may be Stenhouse’s 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 he’s faced it all season long.
“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.
“It’s tough to win championships no matter what. So yeah, that pressure is there.”