News & Media

Stenhouse Jr. ready to step up to Cup challenge

June 28, 2012, Joe Menzer,

SPARTA, Ky. -- Although excited about move, defending champion still focused on Nationwide

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had no doubts heading into 2012 that he would be driving a Sprint Cup race car for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013. He just didn't think it would come about the way that it did.

Stenhouse received a call from the organization last Thursday telling him that, yes, he will be driving a Cup car next season, and that former Cup champion Matt Kenseth would be leaving the team.

"I was on my way up here with Mom and Dad, and my Dad asked, 'Well, what do you think?' I'm trying not to get too big of a head right now."


"I thought for sure it would be in a fourth car, and I definitely didn't see Matt going anywhere," said Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide Series champion who is third in points heading into Friday's Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

But it is what it is, and Stenhouse said Thursday that he is ready for the challenge. He also insists that expectations would have been high for him next season whether he was replacing Kenseth.

Stenhouse does not want what is going to happen in 2013 to adversely affect him striving to achieve his goal for 2012.

"You've just got to take advantage of each situation you're in, and we've got go into next year ready to learn as much as we can, while trying to finish this year off on a good note," Stenhouse said. "We came into this year wanting to win the 2012 Nationwide Series championship, and we've got to make sure we stay focused on that. This week will probably be the toughest week, getting all the questions about next year."

* Sound Off: Stenhouse Jr. on excitement about Cup

Stenhouse, a native of Olive Branch, Miss., drove to Kentucky Speedway for this weekend's events in his motor home with his parents.

"I was on my way up here with Mom and Dad, and my Dad asked, 'Well, what do you think?' I'm trying not to get too big of a head right now," Stenhouse said. "I've got to stay focused, stay humbled and keep on going. You can't look too far ahead. But obviously I feel great about the opportunity."

Only two years ago, Stenhouse crashed out of four of the first 10 Nationwide races, and team co-owner Jack Roush had him removed from his ride for the next four races. Roush then put him back in the car, and Stenhouse's career took off. He finished strong in 2010, winning the Rookie of the Year award before capturing the 2011 championship.

"We've been talking about running Cup for a long time now. I think Jack kind of wanted me to run Cup this year," Stenhouse said. "But with the way sponsorship unfolded and with me wanting to run another year in Nationwide this year, it didn't happen. We definitely had talked about getting me in a Cup car for some races toward the end of the season to get ready for next year, so I think Jack had the mindset that we were going to [go to Cup next year], no matter what.

"I'm not sure what all happened. I just got a call Thursday that we were going to run Cup next year, and that Matt would not be coming back. I have no idea how it all went down. I just got a phone call. I never would have expected that."

Stenhouse, who drives the No. 6 Ford in Nationwide, said he isn't sure what his car number will be next season in Cup. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Ford.

Fellow Nationwide driver Elliott Sadler boldly stated Friday that he thinks Stenhouse could take his current Nationwide team to Cup and immediately contend for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But Stenhouse said he isn't certain yet if his current Nationwide crew chief, Mike Kelley, will follow him to the Cup side -- and the same with his entire current Nationwide team.

"I feel like we've got a great race team right now," Stenhouse said. "We've got some new guys this season, but Mike Kelley assembled the team in the offseason. We've never missed a beat from last season. We started off strong, and I think they're one of the best teams in the business. I believe in each and every one of them.

"That being said, I have no idea what's going to happen next year. I have no idea if Mike's going to be the crew chief or if my guys are coming up with me. I know that was the talk if we were going to be a fourth team, that they would come with me. Now that we're going to be the third team, I'm not sure how all that plays out."

Stenhouse said he would leave that up to others to decide. He also said he will race the Cup race at Dover this fall. Beyond that, it's not certain yet which Cup races will be added to his schedule this season to get him ready for next season, but he does expect some more Cup races.

"We've got people in position to make those calls. Robbie Reiser [RFR's general manager] is a veteran at this, and Jack and everybody. I'm going to kind of leave it up to them," Stenhouse said. "I can give my input, but I kind of think they have an idea of what they want to do. I've not been able to sit down and talk to anybody yet. I think we'll probably do that next week. Hopefully we can get things more ironed out as the year moves on."

Stenhouse has only two career Cup starts, finishing 11th at Charlotte in the fall of 2011 and 20th in this year's Daytona 500. But with five wins and five poles in 87 career Nationwide starts, he's clearly made a positive impression on others.

"He's a hard-core racer who can drive the car sideways and under any condition," veteran driver Kevin Harvick said. "He's always aggressive and going forward. I'm a huge Stenhouse fan. ... I think he wound up getting what he deserves."