Runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. races to career-best at Bristol

Runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. races to career-best at Bristol
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished a Sprint Cup career-best second Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

BRISTOL, Tenn. — On a rainy Bristol Motor Speedway day/night that ended with a Carl Edwards victory, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Finished achingly close to scoring his first Sprint Cup win.

The race ended under caution after a mistake in the flagstand and a brief rain shower. NASCAR said a worker in the flagstand activated the track’s caution lights by mistake with two laps to go. Then the rain began. That robbed Stenhouse Jr., Who was second, of a chance to outrun Edwards for the win.

Stenhouse finished second, the best run of his short Cup career.

The finish was good; a win would have been much, much better, probably earning Stenhouse a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

If he had gotten a late-race shot at Edwards, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Stenhouse said he certainly would have taken it.

“I was thinking that I would use the bumper if the opportunity was there,” Stenhouse said. “If you get the win, you’re in the Chase, and you can let the rest take care of itself later. That’s what I was really thinking if we went back green.

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“Aric (Almirola) — I saw that he was really strong on the restart before, and I thought him and I were really pretty good on the bottom, and Carl seemed to be a little too loose as soon as we went back green. I would have run it in there pretty hard, and he (Edwards) knows I would have. We’ve had a few races in Nationwide where they came down to the wire like that, and we both drive really hard.

“I was thinking about doing whatever I could to win.”.

After the final misplaced caution occurred, rain pelted the track. “We weren’t going to get to Carl no matter what, so really it was only going to help us have the opportunity to get that one more spot,” Stenhouse said. “As soon as it came out going in three, it started raining pretty good.”.

Stenhouse’s best previous finish was a third at Talladega last year.

“We’re just slowly working and getting better and better,” Stenhouse said. “I thought we were a lot better than our finish last week at Las Vegas (27th) except I sped on pit road. I think we’ve got some good cars, and everybody at the shop is working hard on building those.”.

Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion (2011-12), is better known to many general sports fans as Danica Patrick’s boyfriend. But last year’s Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year — beating out Patrick, among others, for the honor — has proven the more successful Cup racer so far.

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But after a rough start to the season, where she finished 40th in the Daytona 500 and 36th at Phoenix, Patrick has been steadily improving. She finished 21st last Sunday at Las Vegas — the best showing among the four-drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing — before coming home 18th at Bristol.

The pair celebrated late Sunday night with dinner at IHOP.

Stenhouse said the Fords were noticeably better Sunday at Bristol compared to last season.

“Compared to last year, we could not roll the bottom,” he said. “I thought this year the work we’ve done in the off-season — it seemed like Aric and Carl and my car … Rolled the bottom a lot better than we were able to last year.

“We focused on that a lot during practice because if you look back at these races, the cars that are up front every race here at Bristol are able to run the bottom when they need to. I was really happy with being able to run bottom, middle, top, enter in on the top and turn and drive across the bottom. I was really, really happy with our car and the changes that we’ve made and the progress we’ve made from last year.”.

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