Ricky Stenhouse Jr. faces all-or-nothing race on Sunday
SPEEDWAY, Ind. - 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."
DALE JARRETT REMEMBERS BRICKYARD 400 HE SHOULD'VE WON
NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett won his first Brickyard 400 in 1996 and his second during his 1999 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship season in 1999, but he still remembers the one that got away.
Jarrett's No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford was the fastest car in the 1998 race at Indianapolis, qualifying second and at one point building a 16-second lead. The payout for winning the race was $637,000, but crew chief Brad Parrott and owner Robert Yates wanted to collect every dollar that was up for grabs in the event.
That included a $10,000 prize for leading Lap 80, the halfway point.
Parrott told Jarrett he would be able to stretch his fuel to Lap 80 and make it back around to pit road, thanks to the 16-second lead. Unfortunately, the fuel mileage calculations weren't entirely accurate, and Jarrett ran out of gas in Turn 1.
The race stayed green, and Jarrett lost four laps before he got to his pit stall to refuel. In the second half of the race, he got those four laps back under a format where lapped cars restarted in the bottom lane with lead-lap cars to the outside.
"We finished (16th) on the lead lap," Jarrett said on Friday during an appearance for Mobil 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum. "I passed the leader every time - we were that fast... Drove back to North Carolina, still pissed, and Monday morning at about 10:15, I got a call from one of the guys who worked on the car.
"He said, 'I know you're still not happy. None of us are. We should have won that race, not trying to win $10,000, but just I thought this might make you laugh. We just got a call from Todd Parrott, who was driving to the race shop. He only lives about 12 miles from the race shop. He ran out of gas.'"
MATT DIBENEDETTO TAKES A MAJOR LEAP OF FAITH - IN HIMSELF
When Matt DiBenedetto told the world on Twitter that he was leaving Go Fas Racing and scheduled a media availability for Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the natural assumption was that the driver of the No. 32 Ford already had something lined up for next year.
Not so, said DiBenedetto, who is leaving his current ride at the end of the season with no specific backup plan. When Go Fas team owners Archie and Mason St. Hilaire asked DiBenedetto for a decision on 2019, it crystallized the driver's desire to prove himself.
To do so, DiBenedetto felt he had to make it known he was available for a more competitive ride, even if that means competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series instead of Cup.
"They (team owners) came and talked to me a couple of weeks ago and said they'd like to know what direction I was taking by September 15," DiBenedetto said. "I was already thinking about it. And, honest to God, I woke up about a week-and-a-half ago - I'd been thinking about what I wanted to do - and it just became clear to me.
"I don't know what made me feel that way. I believe in fate and things happen for a reason. But I woke up one morning, and it became clear to me that I needed to take a bold move, and I needed to show everybody what I got."
DiBenedetto has developed the reputation for overachieving in less than winning equipment.
"We make the most out of what we've got here," he said. "And it's been great to get the support a lot of people, but it was time to take that chance. It was clear that I needed to take a step back and put myself in a position or make myself available to have a shot like (Alex) Bowman did and getting in a car that I can win in and show that I can prove it to everybody.
"I think everybody knows that I make the most of what I get in. We all do as a team. But until they see it - and winning in winning equipment, I want to show them so they will see it first-hand."
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---