NASCAR's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. May Be the Next Hot Young Cup Driver

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2012

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 01:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 Cargill Beef Ford, stands in the garage area before the start of practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1, 2012 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

There are many young drivers who show exceptional talent as race car drivers coming up through the lower series of NASCAR, but one is a proven champion who is about to make a lot of noise in the Cup series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 25, was driving ARCA cars for Roush Fenway Racing in 2008 where he captured a win in only his sixth race. In 2009 he began a partial schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for RFR. The 2010 season didn't go well for him when he wrecked his equipment in four of the first 10 races.

Jack Roush had his driver sit out some races, with Stenhouse not sure what the future would be for him with the organization. Roush brought in Mike Kelly as a crew chief for the young driver and put him back on the track. Stenhouse went on to win NASCAR Nationwide Rookie of the Year honors.

The talented driver of the No. 6 Ford has shown his ability to race hard against drivers from the Cup series and win in the second-tier series. He has eight Nationwide career wins, six of which were in 2012, with 62 top-10 finishes.

Stenhouse won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in 2011 and again in 2012. It was no easy task during both seasons as he battled veteran driver Elliott Sadler for the title.

This driver has more than driving talent going for him. He is a charismatic young man, well-spoken with clean-cut good looks. He is the type of driver any sponsor would want as a representative. There was no hesitation by Best Buy, Zest and Fifth Third Bank to stay on board with Stenhouse after Matt Kenseth moved out of the No. 17 at RFR.

The crew chief for Stenhouse will be Scott Graves, who worked with him in the four Cup starts he made during the 2012 season. He was also a full-time engineer for Carl Edwards.

The young driver drove for Wood Brothers Racing in their Cup car at Charlotte during 2011 where he had an 11th-place finish. That was his first start in the series.

During 2012, Stenhouse finished 20th in the Daytona 500, 12th at Dover, 35th at Charlotte and 39th at Homestead. Engine problems caused the poor finish at Charlotte, and a cut tire caused him to hit the wall at Homestead.

Chemistry is very good between Stenhouse and his crew chief Graves. Though both are rookies in the Cup series, this may be another combination much like Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe. Keselowski faced some struggles in his first year as a Cup driver, but the No. 2 team quickly overcame those problems in 2011 and 2012.

The No. 17 team at RFR could have some obstacles to overcome while they find their footing as a new team in the Cup series.

Stenhouse may find the new G6 car to be a bit more like the Nationwide car so far as the way it will handle on the racetrack, though obviously he has to learn to deal with the additional horsepower.

It may be difficult for this driver to find Victory Lane with the No. 17 in the upcoming season because of the high level of competition, but it is for sure, Stenhouse is a hot, young driver that will find success.