Stenhouse says strategy to thank for latest top-10
September 19, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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JOLIET, Ill. -- Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a clear path to his second consecutive top-10 finish, only it took a slight detour -- through the drive-through, no less.
Stenhouse left the track for a bite to eat during the five-hour, 10-minute rain delay Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Sated and with the majority of his race ahead of him, he drove from 18th place at the point of the red flag to a solid eighth-place finish in the Geico 400, the opening race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.
"Went to Sonic," Stenhouse said. "Gave me a little bit of energy. Took a nap and really played it out well."
Through Twitter, Stenhouse offered to bring Clint Bowyer a chili dog while making his food run. Jimmie Johnson weighed in, saying he’d like a milkshake. Stenhouse said sure, but only in exchange for some set-up pointers, prompting the five-time Sprint Cup champion to withdraw his order.
As it turns out, Stenhouse finished just three spots behind Johnson without any friendly advice.
"We started the race and thought we were in big trouble," said Stenhouse, who dropped in the early stages after starting fifth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. "Luckily after the rain delay, getting back out there at night, it kind of helped our car turn a little bit better. I stayed out there on that last caution, thought we were going to be in trouble with those guys behind us on tires, but we were able to hold them off."
Sunday night’s effort marked a career-best Sprint Cup finish for the second straight week. He notched his first Sprint Cup Coors Light Pole Award three weeks ago at Atlanta, then followed his 10th-place performance at Richmond with the eighth at Chicagoland.
Crew chief Scott Graves’ decision not to pit during the final sequence of caution periods certainly helped Sunday night, but Stenhouse isn’t sure what the exact difference has been in the three-week uptick in results.
"I wish I knew," Stenhouse said. "I feel like our cars still don't drive very good. I think Scott is making good calls to get us track position at the end of these races and we're able to hang on to it. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. It's good to carry that momentum from that pole in Atlanta, two top-10s now. We were looking forward to carrying that on the rest of the year. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.
"I think just good pit calls there at the end, keeping us out on the track and getting track position has been the best for us lately."