CONCORD, N.C. â At this time last week, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. thought he had his 2020 plans intact with Roush Fenway Racing in the No. 17.
Cue NASCAR Silly Season.
On Wednesday, Roush announced it would part ways with Stenhouse and bring in Chris Buescher to pilot the No. 17 Ford next season. Itâs a sweet homecoming for Buescher, who spent his three years in the Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing, but a tough goodbye for Stenhouse who didnât see the move coming.
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âA lot came down,â Stenhouse Jr. said after Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval qualifying Friday. âIt was unfortunate, for sure, definitely tough timing for myself and my group to try and find another option. But, all in all, Iâve got to look back on the 11 years that I had with Jack (Roush) and winning races and championships and getting my first Cup win and being competitive. Not as consistent as what we wanted but at the end of it all, (but) Iâm very thankful that Jack took a chance on a dirt racer from Mississippi to come drive his car.â
Stenhouse, who has only raced behind the wheel of a Roush Fenway Racing car in seven full-time seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, got his first career win in 2017 at Talladega Superspeedway. In all, he has 248 starts with the team, logging two wins, 15 top fives, 33 top 10s and two poles.
Stenhouseâs emotions have fluctuated over the last two days with the realization he does not have a ride for next season while he still tries to focus on closing out 2019 in the No. 17. But he said he understands the reasoning behind the organizationâs decision, despite how difficult it is for him.
âOver the past two days, Iâd say I went from angry (to) sad (to) optimistic,â he said. âSometimes change is good. Like they said, it just didnât work and it hadnât been working over the last couple years. Weâve had speed, we just havenât had consistent finishes.
âI think thatâs what sucks for myself â I feel like weâve had plenty of speed to get the job done, itâs just that a lot of things came down to us not getting those results. Ultimately, thatâs what weâre here for is results and they werenât coming.â
Stenhouse still considers his relationship with team owner Jack Roush a special one after spending the entirety of his Cup Series career in a Roush car.
âLittle emotional with the relationship that Jack and I have, only team Iâve ever been at,â Stenhouse said. âLooking forward to seeing whatâs next. Like I said, thereâs a lot of work to do on that, but all in all, Iâm definitely looking forward to these last eight with the great partners that we have, everybody on the 17 team.â
Would a full-time ride in the Xfinity Series be out of the question? Not exactly.
âIâm open to anything for sure,â Stenhouse said.
Fellow Cup Series drivers were just as surprised as Stenhouse was at the news this week and offered support Friday in the garage.
âI think heâs got a lot of talent and heâs a great race car driver,â Stewart-Haas Racingâs Aric Almirola said. âHeâs won two Xfinity championships back-to-back (2011 and 2012), so I think Ricky does a great job. I feel like for most of his career heâs tried as hard as he possibly can try to get the most out of what heâs got.â
Said Kevin Harvick, who has a management company that will represent Stenhouse next year: âRickyâs got a great reputation in the garage, well-connected. Heâs the only driver at Roush Racing that has won races since Carl Edwards left. Thatâs the unfortunate thing. Heâs a Cup winner, heâs a two-time Xfinity Series champion and itâs just bad timing and sucks.â