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Stenhouse encouraged recent success will lead to better season in 2016


during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Robert Laberge

In the midst of his best run of 2015, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is optimistic that what he’s done of late will lead to a much better 2016 season.

Stenhouse, one of several drivers to take part in NASCAR’s open test Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has finished 13th or better (two ninth-place finishes and three 13th-place showings) in the last five races. He’s moved from 28th to 24th in the standings.

“I think my team is doing a great job, really all working together to make sure we’re being as consistent as we can, doing everything in the shop, making sure everything gets done the way it needs to,” Stenhouse said.

There’s more thought being given to strategy, which has also helped.

“We’re going to the track with a set gameplan and are trying to stick to that gameplan every week,” Stenhouse said. “But our cars are getting better, as well.”

Now in his third full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series, the former two-time Xfinity Series champ came into 2015 hoping it would be a breakthrough season.

Instead, it has been a breakdown season. He’s struggled to get speed and performance from his Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion, leaving him with an average finish of 23.5.

“We really wanted to start the year off running inside the top 15 and work from there and get better,” he said. “But we started the year off and it just wasn’t there. But it’s been a good last month and a half for us, and we’re looking forward to finishing the year strong.”

Not only finishing strong, but also building for what he hopes will be a significantly better 2016 campaign.

“I’m encouraged with the things we’ve done that will also help for next year,” Stenhouse said. “We definitely have been behind for the last couple of years and we’re trying to put a lot of people in place.

“I think we’ve got some good hires that are going to come in this off-season that I’m real excited about and make our program better and better race cars. Hopefully, this ending we’re having this year will help us start better next year.”

Even though he’s still in search of his first Sprint Cup win and has averaged one top-five and 3.67 top-10 finishes in his Cup career, Stenhouse is staying positive that those numbers will improve.

“I don’t feel any pressure at all, other than I just want to get our cars better,” said Stenhouse, whose best finish this season has been fourth at the spring Bristol race. “You try not to look in the mirror too much because you generally go backwards and aren’t focused on what’s in front of you.”

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