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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s career best season continues, pit gamble leads to Richmond top five

Ricky Stenhouse Jr's discusses some of the struggles he had early in the Toyota Owners 400 and how he was able to overcome them to finish in the top five at Richmond.

When the Toyota Owners 400 started, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. thought he had a top-five caliber car.

Even after a Lap 66 accident that put him in the wall, Stenhouse turned out to be right.

He managed to finish fourth thanks to a pit strategy that kept his No. 17 Ford on the track with five others during the final caution period Sunday at Richmond International Raceway.

Stenhouse’s partners in desperation were Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan and Cole Whitt.

The strategy wound up only benefiting Stenhouse and Truex, who finished 10th.

Stenhouse’s chance at redemption came thanks to a Ryan Blaney accident on Lap 378.

“I couldn’t run my fastest lap until about Lap 5 or 6,” Stenhouse said. “As soon as that caution came out, I was like, ‘We have to stay (out)’. It worked out for us.”

The Roush Fenway Racing driver earned his second top 10 in two weeks and his second top five of the year. The first, at Phoenix, also came about from pit strategy that kept Stenhouse out of the pits before the final restart.

The big difference between Sunday and the Phoenix race is how much time Stenhouse had to stay ahead of cars on fresh tires.

At Phoenix, Stenhouse only had to make it through a two-lap shootout. In Richmond, he had to endure 19 laps around the .75-mile track.

“I made it a lot of work for us there getting in the fence later in that first stage, and really we were fighting back all day from there,” Stenhouse said. “It was a no‑brainer there to stay out that last caution. I was glad it came out because I thought we missed the opportunity the run before to stay out. It worked out perfect.”

Stenhouse’s result is a career best at Richmond. His previous best in the last eight starts there was 10th in the fall 2013 race. It’s the fourth time in the last six races Stenhouse has earned a career best result at a track. He’s used his performances to rise to 15th in the points standings. In his fifth full Cup season, that’s the highest he’s ever been at this point in a season.

“I think you could say we’ve been a 10th‑place car on the short tracks and gambled some and had some good finishes,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve been finding a lot of success in that even if the car is not perfect, being able to change my adjustments and what I’m doing in the car to get the best out of it. It’s getting that way on (1.5-mile tracks) for sure. We’ve just got to keep building better cars and bringing faster cars to the racetrack and putting the whole weekend together, not making mistakes.”

Stenhouse and the No. 17 team now head to Talladega Superspeedway, where two of his nine Cup Series top fives have come. He finished fifth there last fall after leading six laps.

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