Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a realist, and he can do the math.
Given that Stenhouse is 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 78 points behind the last eligible Playoff position, Stenhouse knows only too well that there’s only one path to NASCAR’s postseason.
“One hundred percent, we have to win,” Stenhouse said on Friday at Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “It’s a bummer, because I feel like we have been fast compared to the previous years, at least on the 1.5-mile tracks.
“It’s a bummer that we are kind of in that spot, but I think we can get our car good here and strategy—there are all different ways these races can play out. I don’t think Michigan is our best opportunity to win, but I do think it is an opportunity that if the situation arises that you might be able to get something done. Bristol is by far the one that we circle.”
Stenhouse is right to consider Bristol his best hope. Though both his career Cup victories have come on superspeedways, Stenhouse has four top fives in 13 starts at Thunder Valley, including second-place runs in 2014 and 2016. In this year’s spring race, Stenhouse had a fast No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, but a backstretch wreck on the second lap of the event ruined his chances.
“I think Bristol is our race track to go in and do what we need to do,” Stenhouse said. “I’m bummed in the spring that we didn’t get to race and show exactly how much speed we had, because throughout the weekend in practice that was by far the best race car that I have ever had at Bristol.
“I know we have ran second there and struggled in practice and qualifying. I was bummed that we didn’t get to show that speed. I’m thinking that, when we go back there, we will have that same speed and hopefully showcase what we’ve got.”
A position in the Playoffs likely depends on it.