HAMPTON, Ga. – Capitalizing on a strong qualifying run from Friday night at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. collected his 11th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-10 finish in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
“Our Ford EcoBoost Fusion was like I hoped it would be,” said Stenhouse. “Practice felt good and I was hoping that was going to correlate over to the race and we were exactly where we thought we would be. We weren’t real good for the first 10 laps of a run, but really good at the end of the run. We lost some track position there getting to pit road with the 95 (Michael McDowell). That’s two weeks in a row they’ve gotten us on pit road, so hopefully they won’t pit next to us next time.
“But, other than that, we lost some track position there, where I feel like we may have got a seventh or eighth-place finish out of it, but, all in all, I’m really happy with all the hard work that these guys put in.”
The two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion first top-10 in a Cup car since last October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway doesn’t give his Roush Fenway Racing team a clean bill of health that their organization is emerging from poor performances and subpar efforts. But, the finish should be taken in stride as the possibility of showcasing the team’s potential with the new low downforce package.
“It’s only one weekend. I hope to get consistent with that,” added Stenhouse. “I thought it (race package) was great. The tires being softer, Goodyear did a great job with the tires falling off a lot. It played a big role in the race. Cars would pass me early in the run, and I’d come back and get them late in the run. That’s really all you can ask for when you talk about racing, a race track and tires. It felt really good.
“I’m looking forward to going to Vegas next week.”
Stenhouse’s teammate Trevor Bayne also had a superb qualifying effort on Friday lining up his No. 6 Advocare Ford Fusion third, but the 2011 Daytona 500 champion faded quickly once the green flag flew and never recovered. Struggling with the handling of his car, Bayne finished 22nd behind Greg Biffle who finished a quiet 13th in the third Roush Fenway entry.
Overall, the Ford Performance teams weren’t a factor in the second race of the season. Sure, at times they flashed into the spotlight – but there wasn’t a moment when either Roush, Team Penske or even the Wood Bros. showed they had enough to deny Chevrolet their 40th win at Atlanta.
Brad Keselowski led the way for the blue oval finishing ninth, while his teammate Joey Logano finished 12th. Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney contended for a top-15 late, but finished 25th after being involved in an accident a lap from the finish.
One race doesn’t equal a panic button for the manufacturer, but it does raise the eyebrow – leaving you to keep tabs on the team heading to Las Vegas on March 6.