AUSTIN, Texas — By no means does Ricky Stenhouse Jr. consider himself a road course ringer. But he does feel like he’s improved when making left-and right-hand turns over the last few years.
That makes a day like Sunday at Circuit of The Americas that much sweeter. This year’s Daytona 500 winner was competitive throughout the weekend. The No. 47 Chevrolet was a solid 13th in practice on Friday, making him optimistic heading into the latter part of the weekend.
Stenhouse‘s speed translated over to qualifying on Saturday morning, but he made a mistake on his lap and qualified 18th. While still in the middle of the pack, it was his second best qualifying effort of the season (Las Vegas, 16th).
“We were a lot closer this weekend than we were last time we were here, and really all the road courses last year,” Stenhouse told Jayski.com. “We were good on the long runs last year (on road courses), but we didn‘t have any short-run speed.”
During the race, Stenhouse had his fair share of issues. The No. 47 car got into the oil from Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota on lap 10 when Wallace overdrove Turn 12 and got into Kyle Larson. Later in the race, Denny Hamlin collected Stenhouse, turning him around. Then, on the one of many late-race restarts, the No. 47 car cut a right front tire after contact with a competitor.
With all the melee late in the race, including three overtimes, Stenhouse still had a chance to score a solid finish. On the final restart, he drove hard and wide into Turn 1 — the action corner — and gained a handful of positions. For the final two laps, he survived to finish seventh.
“I had a good game plan for Turn 1 most of the time,” he added. “I knew when I was restarting 12th that I felt like they were all going to slow it way down, so I blitzed the outside and had a really good Turn 1.
“Felt like we were just as good as the cars in front of us at the end, which made me happy. [Austin Cindric] was right in front of me and some really good road course guys. Really happy with our improvement.”
The seventh-place finish is Stenhouse’s first career top-10 result on a road course at the Cup level. In 31 prior tries, he had five finishes between 11th and 15th. He had 18 prior top 20s. Entering COTA, he had a streak of four such finishes, dating back to last July at Road America.
So proud of the fight in our team, solid qualifying,stage points, finished 7th. @StenhouseJr was on the wheel! @JTGRacing
— Mike Kelley (@MkelleyJTG) March 27, 2023
To finally check off a top 10 on a road course is a big accomplishment for the Mississippi native.
“I finished like 11th and 12th a lot of times, so it feels good to get that,” Stenhouse said. “Our guys worked really hard on the setup for this weekend and spent time on the simulator. That was a lot of fun to drive.”
After six races, Stenhouse has jumped to 12th in the championship standings. His seventh-place run at COTA was his first top-10 finish since winning the Daytona 500 last month.