E.A. Sports Today

Keeping the faith

Stenhouse and Roush have gone through some lean years on the Cup campaign, but their confidence and faith were rewarded at Talladega Sunday

Race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and team owner Jack Roush remained confident despite some lean years together. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag in the GEICO 500 Sunday, it ended a lengthy drought for both he and team owner Jack Roush.

For Stenhouse, who had found success in other levels of the sport, it was his first victory in 158 career Cup starts. For Roush, it was his first Cup victory as a team owner since Carl Edwards won in Sonoma in June 2014.

Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, called it “the most gratifying win since I’ve been at Roush.”

Although there have been times when Stenhouse “probably” thought he was never going to win, he never lost confidence.

“The start of this season I had a different mindset that let’s continue to build on what we learned at the end of last year, let’s try and get a win before the season is up,” he said. “We’ve got races that we circled that are really good potential for us – Bristol, a lot of the short tracks right now I feel really good at, and Talladega and Daytona, but for sure Talladega because just our average finish here has been really good.

“After qualifying I was like man I just can’t screw this up … but this year I’ve felt like the way our cars have performed and the way they’ve driven like we could get something in Victory Lane before the season was up. I’m glad it’s sooner rather than later.”

As for Roush, he “never doubted” the team would win more races and was “confident” Stenhouse would win one this season. He has even projecting a win for Trevor Bayne before the year is through.

“It gives us fresh wind in our sail,” Roush said. “We’ve got over 300 victories in NASCAR. The number I hold dear is 40 years of racing. I’ve won 450 national events, and it puts another chapter in that record. We’ll celebrate with the crew and with all the engine builders and everybody else that this is their first win. We’ll celebrate the fact that they were there the day that Ricky won at Talladega in 2017.”

Somebody important almost didn’t make it.

Danica Patrick, Stenhouse’s girlfriend, was in Victory Lane to celebrate, in street clothes after being knocked out of the race in The Big One on Lap 169. But the race winner’s dad wasn’t there right away. He was detained by track security as he tried to make his way over from his perch on the backstretch.

Stenhouse said he didn’t get the whole story, but track spokesman Russell Branham came to the rescue to explain, saying the elder Stenhouse was “extremely excited” about his son winning Sunday. He tried to find a way to get across the track, at first trying to jump a fence – like he did for the driver’s first ARCA win in Kentucky — and then walking the perimeter road to reach the tunnel to access the infield.

A security guard stopped him, questioned him in their vehicle and after identifying himself as Ricky Stenhouse’s dad, orders from the security office were pretty simple. “Take him to Victory Lane.”

Father and son – and girlfriend – all celebrated together.

“My dad has done so much for me in my career,” Ricky said. “Everything that I’ve learned is from him, and you know, making sure that you have right people around you is one of the things that he’s all about – making sure you have people that respect you, that will do anything for us and, man, he sacrificed a lot for me and my career.

“Everything I know about racing I learned from him. I’m glad he was able to be here in Victory Lane.”

Danica Patrick was one of the first to greet Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Victory Lane after his win Sunday. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Cover photo: GEICO 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and team owner Jack Roush talk about not losing faith during some lean years on the Cup circuit. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To see a full gallery of B.J. Franklin photo from this weekend’s races, including the cars and drivers of Sunday’s GEICO 500, go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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