By Toby Christie, Editor – Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. comes into Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in an unenviable position – the first man outside the cutline for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
The 30-year-old driver currently sits 62 points behind Hendrick Motorports driver Alex Bowman. Stenhouse could erase that point deficit over the next three races, but it is highly unlikely that it will happen. But if Stenhouse were to win one of the three remaining regular season races the Olive Branch, Mississippi native would leapfrog his way automatically into the post season. The three races left include Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis.
Stenhouse has never posted so much as even a top-10 at either Darlington or Indianapolis. In fact, the best he’s finished at either of the two tracks was a 12th-place effort at Indy back in 2016. A win doesn’t look likely past this weekend.
But there is still Saturday night’s race at Bristol, where Stenhouse sports the best career average finish (10.2) among active Cup Series drivers. Stenhouse has been the bridesmaid twice before at the world’s fastest half-mile (Spring 2014 and Fall 2016). Overall, Stenhouse has four top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts. Another interesting stat is that he has also never recorded a DNF (did not finish) at one of the more grueling stops on the circuit.
Stenhouse will roll off the grid in 12th for Saturday night’s race, and he has showed decent speed all week long. In final practice, Stenhouse was the third fastest over a 10-lap run. Expect Stenhouse to be a factor at some point in the night, as this could be his final shot at breaking into the Playoff grid for the second-consecutive season.
Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images