Things were so bad for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2010 that he was actually benched by team owner Jack Roush for a pair of Nationwide races.
His struggles on the track could have easily destroyed his confidence and even cost him his job, but Stenhouse Jr. is using the low point of his career to become a title contender in 2011.
The turnaround began during the second half of the 2010 season when Stenhouse notched a pair of top-five finishes and closed the year with back-to-back top-10s. The momentum has carried over to this season, and he and his No. 6 team has opened with an eighth-place run at Daytona, seventh-place effort at Phoenix and an eighth-place performance at Las Vegas.
His hot start has him just two points behind Reed Sorenson for the top spot in the standings. His once shaky future is quickly becoming a success story, and it’s hard to believe this is the same driver that was getting benched by his team owner less than a year ago.
How good has Stenhouse Jr. been?
Believe it or not, he is the only driver in the series with top-10 finishes in all three races this season. Kyle Busch hasn’t been able to do it. Carl Edwards hasn’t done it. Defending series champ Brad Keselowski hasn’t done it.
Even if the 2011 season doesn’t end with a series title, it seems inevitable that Stenhouse Jr. is heading for a career year. His previous career highs include eight top 10s and a 19.4 average finish. He currently boasts a 7.7 average finish and is on pace to eclipse eight top-10s by the halfway point of the season.
The recent resurgence of the Ford teams probably has a lot to do with his sudden success, but it’s safe to say that his struggles last year were a poor reflection of his talent behind the wheel.
Trevor Bayne may have been dubbed the future of Roush Fenway Racing after his win in the Daytona 500, but Stenhouse Jr. is forcing his name into the conversation as well.