After winning the 2011 Nationwide Series championship, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. cruised into the 2012 season as the favorite.
Of course, there was no guarantee that he would repeat. But that was Stenhouse’s plan – plus some.
“Consecutive championships are really cool, especially after having a Rookie of the Year [title] in 2010 and following up with a championship last year,” Stenhouse said after winning the championship for the second straight time. “Last year, we felt we did a good-enough job to win the championship, obviously, but we wanted to accomplish more this year. We wanted to win more races, be in contention to win more, and that is what we did.
“I feel like this one was more special than the last one just because it felt like we performed a lot better and we gave up some points when we probably didn’t need to, but it all worked out.”
Stenhouse’s 2012 totals improved on 2011. He won six times (versus two) and scored 19 top fives (versus 16).
Stenhouse led the series points from race 8 through race 11. Then, after trailing Elliott Sadler for much of the rest of the season, he rallied to lead over the final three events.
He won races at Las Vegas, Texas, Iowa, Atlanta, Chicago and Kansas.
“We started the season out looking forward to running up front each week and going for a championship, and when it is all said and done, looking at that trophy is what it is all about,” Stenhouse said. “Seeing my guys happy shows that a lot of people’s hard work paid off.”
Stenhouse gets a big bonus – he moves up to the Sprint Cup Series full time next year, replacing Matt Kenseth in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Fords.
His No. 1 target is working on patience, Stenhouse said.
“I still don’t have the patience I need,” he said. “I like to drive hard every lap. I like to give the fans something to talk about. That is the way I have always driven. In sprint cars, we either won or had spectacular crashes. It was always fun because the fans were always talking about us, one way or another. That is the way I drive. The patience I have learned the last couple years is definitely better than 2010, but it still needs to get better.”
Aggressive driving cost Stenhouse early in his career, as team owner Jack Roush eventually benched him after a series of crashes. Roush gave him another shot, however, and the results have been great.
“A lot of owners could have very easily given up,” Stenhouse said. “If I was an owner. I probably would have given up. It was difficult at the start, but Jack believed in what I could do. … There are a lot of good things that came out of it. He is a great owner to work with. We have a lot of fun together. I feel like he is family in the sense that he loves my Dad – I think he likes my Dad more than he likes me. They are always up to something. If it isn’t coming from Jack, it is coming from Dad, and then they talk and it is coming from both.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.