Roush Fenway Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. knows both ends of the spectrum.
Last year, with breakthrough victories at Talladega and Daytona, he locked himself into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs long before the final regular-season race at Richmond.
This year, with the regular-season finale contested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stenhouse is winless, but he needs to change that status in order to compete in the Playoffs again. Currently 16th in the standings, Stenhouse can’t catch 15th-place Alex Bowman on points, and Bowman is the last driver currently in a Playoff-eligible position.
Having to win Sunday’s Machine Vodka 400 (1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) isn’t without its advantages. Certainly, it has simplified Stenhouse’s approach to the race.
“For one, it’s clear-cut what we’ve got to do, so throughout the race we’re not really worried about each stage,” Stenhouse said on Saturday at the Brickyard, where rain washed out all practice and qualifying sessions. “We’re only worried about setting ourselves up for the end of the race, because that’s all that really matters for us in this particular race.
“Even if it doesn’t all work out we still have a tight race for trying to be 17th in points (because Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, currently 18th, secured one of the top 16 spots with the victory), and I think 17th in points would still be probably my second-best in points since I’ve been in Cup, so that’s something that I strive for to continually get better and make our stats look better…
“We haven’t run as well as what we wanted, but we still kept ourselves in contention to battle to get in on points, but definitely enjoyed it a lot more last year being locked in at this point.”