Roush Fenway Racing made quite a few changes this offseason, ranging from management and crew chiefs, to try and improve their program after going winless and not placing a driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2015. It seems those changes could put the company back in the right direction when looking at Atlanta.
The third race, first in 2016, for the low downforce package last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. run solidly inside the top 10 throughout the day en route to finishing 10th
“Last week was really good for us. We kind of hoped to start that way, but we weren’t real sure how that was going play out until we actually got to Atlanta,” Stenhouse said Thursday during a test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “But, all in all, we were really happy with how qualifying went and practice and then how everything translated to the race.
“There are some things we need to clean up. I think we could have finished a few spots higher, but the cars were fast, and they handled good.”
While the run has Stenhouse excited, the enthusiasm for this year began pre-season with the confidence Roush Fenway could once again be success. Stenhouse says it’s due to how they ran near the end of last season. In the first 20 races of 2015, Stenhouse posted five top 15s with a single top 10, compared to five top-15s in the final 16 races with two top-10s.
“We were going in the right direction at the end of the year, and I think all the things that we learned throughout last year and the things that we implemented to our cars and to our system, the people that we implemented brought over some more information,” he said. “All of that just kind of kept playing into the way we ended the year last year, so it kind of made us more motivated and pretty happy with the group of people we’ve got, and really believe in the direction we’re going.
“You can see that throughout the shop. The drivers, we feel it. We drive it now and can see a difference, and I think that was the biggest thing for us drivers.”
Stenhouse added that while their work ethic hasn’t changed, he and his teammates couldn’t feel a difference previously. Now being able to feel the difference has increased the confidence and optimism.
Other key areas include improving their engines, so there are fewer failures, getting the cars handling, and bettering pit stops.
“I was a little nervous about how the car was going be today and if we were going have speed and how it was going drive, and it was a lot better than we were here last year,” he said. “Again, just taking it one day at a time and not trying to get ahead of ourselves and think we’ve got it figured out.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go because we want to be back winning, and we want to be running in the top five consistently. So I’m definitely happy with our top 10 last week, but, like you said, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself.”
Stenhouse was quick during Thursday testing, posting the ninth fastest time in the morning, followed by the seventh best 10 lap consecutive average in the afternoon.
“The Fastenal Ford felt decent today,” he said. “We didn’t do any qualifying runs at the end like a lot of cars did there, but so far so good. We definitely have a lot more speed than we had to start the year last year or even to end the year last year, so that was a big positive vibe going on throughout the shop, and hopefully, we can keep that up.”