Last season was more forgettable than memorable for current sophomore Ricky Stenhouse Jr. After two championships in the Nationwide Series in 2011 and 2012, Stenhouse Jr. looked to have a high ceiling coming into the Sprint Cup Series taking over Matt Kenseth’s old ride (No. 17) for Roush Fenway Racing.
Recording only three Top 10s in 2013, all being in the second half of the season, many would suggest that Stenhouse Jr. improved as the season progressed in his underwhelming performance a year ago. However, in the first 18 races, he was able to capture four finishes 13th or better. While he posted more Top 10s in the second half, he had an average finish of 18.3 in the first half, comparing to his slightly worse 19.4 average in the remaining 18 races.
Starting the Daytona 500 in 34th, it was not the start to the season his team was hoping for. Slowly gaining ground throughout the race, he was able to work his way into the Top 20 and eventually able to record his first Top 10 since Talladega in October. To be clear, Daytona (and restrictor-plate races) are among the driver’s best, with the fourth best average among active drivers since 2012 at Daytona with a 12.5 average finish in four races.
Heading into Phoenix, Stenhouse Jr. has also shown a lot of skill and consistency in his races so far. In his two races last year, he was able to post an average finish of 14.0 but failed to record a Top 10. Being his fifth best track to date in Sprint Cup racing, Stenhouse Jr. has his best opportunity to record back-to-back Top 10s in his sophomore season and start the year off on a positive note.
His potential is definitely there given his track record and early career success. He had shown signs of passive driving last year, which could be attributed to being his rookie season. Now that all the drivers are aware of the talented driver, his ability to provide more aggressive driving should be displayed in 2014. While he won’t be a Chase contender this season, expect the sophomore to be able to significantly improve his Top 10s to 7-10, grabbing his first Top 5 or two, competing for his first win and trying to finish Top 20 in points. By 2015 Stenhouse. Jr could be the No. 2 driver for Jack Roush with the possible departure of Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards in the 2014 offseason (due to contracts expiring), and that is when Stenhouse Jr. should be able to have a breakout season and compete for a spot in the Chase For The Cup.