Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Proving He Belongs in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Proving He Belongs in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will have some new competitors—like 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson—when he makes his Sprint Cup debut this weekend.

After an abysmal start to 2010, last June Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was pulled from his NASCAR Nationwide series ride. What a difference a year makes.

This weekend, Stenhouse is making his NASCAR Sprint Cup series debut and is coming off his first-ever NASCAR victory—he won last Sunday's John Deere Dealers 250 at Iowa Speedway in NASCAR's Nationwide series.

This weekend's competition will be much more difficult however.

Stenhouse will be filling the seat of the 2011 Daytona 500 champion, Trevor Bayne, who has now missed six weeks with a yet-to-be-diagnosed illness. Bayne is expected to return next weekend for the Nationwide race in Chicago.

Like the driver he is replacing this weekend, Stenhouse's rise is quite the feat considering where he was in his career just a short 11 months ago.

After finishing 40th at Charlotte last May and failing to qualify for last June's Nationwide race in Nashville the next week, team owner Jack Roush made a desperation move—he pulled Stenhouse from the ride. Stenhouse sat out the race at Kentucky Motor Speedway the following weekend.

The move apparently worked.

And worked well.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Stenhouse's ride for the Coca-Cola 600—the famed 21 of the Wood Brothers
Very well.

Stenhouse posted seven top-10 finishes in the remaining races in 2010 after having just one top-10 finish to start the season. This year, he has nine top-10 finishes in just 12 starts and is the only Nationwide regular to win a race in a season that has been dominated by Cup drivers.

This weekend, he gets to prove himself at the highest level on one of the biggest stages.

His weekend is already off to a great start. In Cup qualifying today, he posted a ninth-place effort while having to make the field on speed. His time was also the fastest of the go-or-go-home qualifiers.

As for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, if Stenhouse's 2011 results are any indicator, he should have no problem proving he belongs.

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