Three Cup starts for Stenhouse

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. the driver of the #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford waits for his qualifying run for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300 at Kentucky Speedway on September 22, 2012 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LOUDON, N.H. — As he prepares for his first full season as a Cup driver next year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will run at least three more races in NASCAR’s premier series in 2012, team owner Jack Roush said Saturday.

Roush, however, isn’t averse to adding events to Stenhouse’s Cup plans, if circumstances dictate doing so. Stenhouse’s main focus this year is defending his Nationwide Series title, but Cup experience may play into that.

“Right now, we’re organized for three races for him at Dover, Charlotte and Homestead,” Roush said Saturday. “But if we decide his prospects for winning the Nationwide championship are improved by running more Sprint Cup races, we’ll do that.

“And if we decide there’s a sponsor that expresses interest and wants to take a look at him, or to be on board for an additional venue, we’ll do that as well.”

Last week at Chicagoland, Roush Fenway Racing announced a commitment from Best Buy for 12 races as primary sponsor on Stenhouse’s No. 17 Cup car next year. Fifth Third Bank and Zest also are on board as primaries for several races, but Roush indicated that approximately 30 percent of the inventory on his cars is still available.

BACK ON TOP

Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was the fastest car in Friday’s opening Cup practice. Then, because his team mistakenly ran racing tire pressures instead of qualifying tire pressures for Friday’s time trials, Hamlin qualified 32nd. In Saturday’s two practice sessions, however, Hamlin was back on top of the speed charts at 131.656 mph and 132.053 mph, respectively, suggesting that a run through the field is likely on Sunday. . . . Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with changes made to his car during Saturday’s final practice. With 22 minutes left in the session, Earnhardt, who qualified 14th for Sunday’s race, radioed to crew chief Steve Letarte, “Pretty easy to drive, considering what I’ve been driving all weekend — just a little snug.” Earnhardt was tied for ninth-fastest in the session, matching the speeds of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick (130. 959 mph).

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