After consistently running in the top 15 for a majority of Sunday’s rain delayed Fold of Honors Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drove his Ford Fusion to a 16th-place finish despite sustaining damage to the right rear with less than 25 laps remaining in the 325 lap race.
“Our Ford was really good yesterday when it was warmer and the sun was out,” Stenhouse said. “With the cooler temperatures, we really struggled with the balance. We can definitely see some of the gains we made to our intermediate program over the off-season. With our overall performance this weekend, I’m looking forward to getting to Vegas.”
After advancing to the final round of qualifying on Friday, the Olive Branch, Miss. native lined up in the sixth position but fell back to 17th due to a loose handling condition. Before the competition yellow waved on lap 30, Stenhouse got loose making contact with the outside wall. Under the caution flag, the team pulled the fenders to ensure against tire rubs during the scheduled pit stop.
After restarting in the 19th position, the two-time XFINITY champion steadily marched his way forward running equivalent lap times as the top-five contenders to take the green-and-white checkered ending stage one in the 14th position.
With another swing to help the loose handling condition, Stenhouse restarted stage two in the 12th position and was able to maintain to take the green-and-white checkered ending stage two in the 12th position despite battling a tight handling condition.
With the final stage going caution free for the first 123 laps, differing pit strategies began to come into play. With 25 laps to go, the No. 6 machine had an engine issue exhibiting a huge cloud of smoke. With the spotters and drivers not being able to see through the thick cloud of smoke, the right rear of the No. 17 Ford received damage from contact with the No. 43 machine.
The crew worked feverishly over three pit stops to repair the damage, which allowed Stenhouse to maintain his track position and not lose a lap to the leaders. Due to pitting early for the extra time to work on the right rear damage, the Roush Fenway Racing driver lined up at the tail end of the field for the final restart. With a caution free 20-lap shootout, Stenhouse took the checkered flag in the 16th position.
Next up for Stenhouse and the No. 17 team is Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 4. Race coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX. Coverage can also be heard on PRN and SIRIUS radio channel 90.