Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hopes to seize best opportunity at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 05: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a realist.

Approaching the halfway point of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford is embroiled in a tight points battle for one of the last spots in the Playoffs.

Through 17 races, Stenhouse is 16th in the standings, but the defending winner of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is not currently in a Playoff-eligible position, give that 19th-place Austin Dillon has secured a top-16 spot with his victory in the season-opening Daytona 500.

But Stenhouse can make the points issue moot by repeating as the winner of Saturday’s race, and he’s practical enough to know that the last restrictor-plate of the regular season gives him his best chance.

“Yeah, for sure,” Stenhouse said Thursday between practices at Daytona. “I think we’ve got Daytona, and I feel like Bristol—there are two tracks that we can still potentially win at, being able to go out and win a race.

“Obviously, there are race tracks where things can play out. I don’t think we have the speed at the mile-and-a-halves yet to go out there and win like we want to, so I think, realistically, when I go to those mile-and-a-halves, I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s somehow manage a 12th-place finish.’

“Whether you get a couple stage points and you finish 15th and you’re averaging basically a 12th-place finish, that’s what we look at when we go to some of those tracks, but Daytona definitely Saturday night is a really big opportunity for us, but for everyone else, too.”

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