Rally keeps Stenhouse Playoff hopes alive

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Getty Images)

Doubtless Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 15th-place finish will be a mere footnote to Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But for Stenhouse, recovery from early adversity could well mean the difference between advancing to the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and almost certain elimination.

For the second straight week, Stenhouse suffered an early brush with the outside wall, this time off Turn 4 on Lap 7. With the handling of his car hurt by the impact, Stenhouse eventually lost a lap to then-leader Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 136.

But Stenhouse fought back. After losing a battle for the “Lucky Dog” position to Denny Hamlin on Lap 188, Stenhouse and crew chief Brian Pattie opted to return to the lead lap with a wave-around under caution for a restart on Lap 268.

The risk was rewarded. Another quick caution on the restart lap put Stenhouse in position to pit for tires, and after the final restart on Lap 273, he improved to 15th.

That finish left him 12th in the standings heading to Dover and in a position to fight for a berth in the Round of 12.

“It was a struggle for us all weekend,” Stenhouse said. “I told my guys I felt like we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week. We just couldn’t find speed, couldn’t find the handle on the car. We made a lot of adjustments for today and (the car) was surprisingly a little bit better than we were in practice.

“I didn’t think we were as capable of a car to finish where we did, but we did what we needed and had some good breaks and some good pit stops and ended up gaining some points. That was our goal, so I feel really good about that. I’d say we’ve had two sub-par weeks, and we’re still in this thing, so we’ll regroup and get focused and go to Dover.”