News & Media

Starting point: Confidence buoys Stenhouse

February 01, 2011, Mark Aumann,

After crashing out of five of his first 12 Nationwide races in 2010, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wondered if perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him. After all, he'd been a consistent winner in midgets, sprint cars and ARCA ever since he started racing go-karts at age 6.

But when he lasted just eight laps at Charlotte and then failed to qualify at Nashville, Stenhouse was replaced for one race in the No. 6 Ford by Brian Ickler. Instead of opting to see a sports psychologist to figure out if it was all in his head, Stenhouse went the self-help route.

"It was tough and I actually thought about that," Stenhouse said last week during the NASCAR media tour. "I talked to a few people about it. But being from Mississippi, I'm not much on going to a psychiatrist or sports people or anything. You've got to get it right in your mind.

"But I felt like the best thing was our team and Jack Roush still standing behind me and still building confidence in me. Every week, they're working as they can like we're going to win the race. And I think that was the best thing for me."

Given a second chance beginning at Elkhart Lake, Stenhouse made the most of things. His third-place finish at Daytona in July seemed to kick-start his season. From that point on, things were different.

"Once we finally got those one, two good races in, I felt like that really helped us turn the corner," Stenhouse said. "We kept doing the same thing every week. It finally all of the sudden just started coming around. I felt like I was doing things in practice that made our cars better in the race. I felt like we were racing better than we had before."

With seven finishes of 11th or better in the final 10 races of the season, Stenhouse rallied to earn rookie of the year honors.

"We definitely matured a lot from the beginning of the season to the end," Stenhouse said. "It wasn't easy but I felt like it was worth it. It built character, not only in myself but our team. The group of guys had been together for a while but it was their first time in Nationwide, so they learned a lot."

And having some stability in the team can only help things, according to Stenhouse. He has the utmost confidence in crew chief Michael Kelley and rest of the guys in the shop.

"I think it was really important to learn that last season and really carry this momentum that we ended with last year until 2011," Stenhouse said. "We're keeping the same guys together, the same crew chief and our cars are better than they were last year. I feel like we're going to start this year strong and finish strong, too."

In order to do that, Stenhouse believes he needs to be as good on Fridays and he can be on Saturdays. From Bristol on, Stenhouse only started one race in the top 10, which meant a lot of working his way through traffic just to get into contention.

"If I could pinpoint anything we need to work on for 2011 ... at the end of the year, we weren't qualifying as well as we were at the beginning, but we were finishing better," Stenhouse said. "So if we can get to where we're starting a little farther up front, I feel like our finishes will be better."