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Stenhouse has one-track mind for title followup

February 06, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Stenhouse has sights set on not only following his title run, but adding 4-8 wins

So what does 2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. do for an encore? How about a repeat performance that includes double-digit wins in 2012?

"I feel like we could go out and get 10 wins this year -- six to 10," Stenhouse said during NASCAR's preseason media tour. "I really feel like we have the opportunity to do that."

"I feel like we could go out and get 10 wins this year -- six to 10. I really feel like we have the opportunity to do that."


Talk about setting your goals high. In 30 seasons of Nationwide racing, it's been done all of three times. Kyle Busch won 10 races in 2008 to tie Sam Ard's total in 1983, and then eclipsed that mark with a 13-win season in 2010.

Stenhouse won twice last season on his way to the series title, so it definitely seems like a tall order. But with Cup regulars like Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski -- who combined for 21 wins in 2011 -- either eliminating or severely cutting back their Nationwide incursions, Stenhouse truly believes Victory Lane will be wide open for the taking.

"Kyle's not running that No. 18 Gibbs car," Stenhouse said. "He's running his own car, so I feel like that might be a little of it. He's got a lot of learning to do with a new team and new cars, so I feel like that's an advantage for us when he does run. Obviously, Kurt [Busch]'s going to be very fast in it, too."

Even though Stenhouse feels he's got the best chance to improve his victory totals, he knows the competition feels the same way, especially a pair of drivers moving into the series full-time in 2012.

"We've got Austin Dillon coming up from the Truck Series, who brings a lot of fans and a lot of excitement, especially with the No. 3 coming back in," Stenhouse said.

"Danica Patrick's coming in. It's going to be a lot of fun watching her progress throughout the year. And I think the championship battle's going to be just as tough. Obviously, week in and week out you're not going to have Carl, Brad and Kyle there, but I think it's still going to create the excitement."

In fact, Stenhouse thinks the Nationwide Series as a whole may be stronger than it's ever been.

"With Brian Scott having a full year in Gibbs cars, he's going to be tough," Stenhouse said. "He began running really strong at the end of the year. Elliott [Sadler] didn't get a win last year but he was really strong at the end of the year. I think there's going to be a lot of different winners in our Nationwide Series."

As Stenhouse prepares to defend his championship, he'll do it with a revamped team. Some of his crew were promoted to several of Jack Roush's Cup operations during the offseason.

"As disappointed as I was to lose that championship team that we had assembled, I don't see any reason why we can't do again with this group of guys," Stenhouse said. "I feel confident in their ability to work on the race cars, and that's what Roush Fenway's about. They take and try to promote from within our company. A lot of our guys -- some went to the No. 16, I think one went to the No. 99.

"We're trying to make our company strong, all the way across the board. If that's taking some of our Nationwide guys to do that, and bring some good ones into our program, I'm OK with it."

Certainly Stenhouse would like to be the next guy called on by Roush for promotion to NASCAR's premier series. At 24, the Mississippi native certainly feels at home after four years in the company.

"Looking at it from my perspective, once you get into a place where you feel like family, you never want to get that divorce," Stenhouse said. "You never want it to end. I feel like when you get into Roush Fenway Racing -- from Jack all the way throughout the company -- if they believe in you, they'll always believe in you.

"They'll always stick with you and give you everything you need. I see that in Jack. He's really dedicated as an owner. He's really involved. And I think that's one of the good things about this organization."

For his part, Stenhouse says he's willing to do what it takes to stick around. Whether that'll take 10 victories in one season is unclear. Certainly getting a full-season sponsor to come on board and help defray Roush's costs would be a huge help.

In any case, Stenhouse is wishing for a long and healthy relationship. And more trophies with his name on it.

"I don't like splitting up with people," Stenhouse said. "If you can be with one company throughout your whole career, I think it's more enjoyable."