Nobody really likes to be the butt of the joke so when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. found out that a picture of his face would be taped on the backside of a Mark Martin action figure if he finished a Nationwide race behind Roush-Fenway teammate Trevor Bayne, Stenhouse had an extra reason to high tail it. It certainly became office cooler banter in the Roush-Fenway race shop where the action figure lived, but it became worldwide when the team started providing weekly video updates on Ricky vs Trevor.com and that mushroomed into other duels between the two drivers. When all the racing and games settled with Stenhouse hoisting his first Nationwide championship trophy in November, the final tally, weeks on the head-26, weeks on the butt-8. A fun way to highlight the personalities of two racing fanatics in their early 20’s just living the dream that neither want to awake from.
Stenhouse is looking to become the sixth driver to win back-to-back Nationwide series championships. He has busted out of the gate with a win and three top-10 finishes in the first four races of the season and even though top 10’s are nothing to sneeze at, expanding on his three career victories in the series is clearly his 2012 goal. “I feel like obviously we need to win another championship. To make it successful we need to win at least six races,” said Stenhouse during media day at Texas Motor Speedway on March 6th. “We won two last year, I felt like late in the year we gave a lot away leading late, ended up running second, third... So I feel like we can legitimately win at least six races and the championship at the same time.” It certainly would help matters if he can drive into victory lane in Texas for the first time this year in the upcoming O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, under the lights on April 13 or in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge on November 3. He’s getting closer. In four Nationwide races at TMS, he has gone from finishing 29th and 11th in 2010 to eighth and sixth last season. Perhaps it’s time for that Roush-Fenway success at Texas to rub off with that team winning the last three events. “The development and engineering that Roush Fenway has done over the years, especially in the Nationwide cars, I feel like they really push really hard to figure out the aero packages of these cars. That plays a big role here at Texas,” Stenhouse said. “Here as of late, bringing on the FR9 and the Roush Engines has definitely helped. This is a track where you need a lot of motor and you always want more.”
Sounds like a man who proudly works for Jack Roush who Stenhouse says was “kind of pushing” for him to take a seat in the team’s Sprint Cup program. “But things fell through,” Stenhouse said and he’s just fine with that “In November, after we were done in Homestead, I made that clear that that’s what I wanted to do, and told them that I wasn’t putting any pressure on them to run full-time Cup in 2012.”
So after four races, where does the tote board stand in his picture’s placement on the Mark Martin action figure? Well a team spokesperson says there will be no Ricky vs Trevor this year since the amount of races Bayne will run in the series is still to be determined but there is a good tradeoff for Stenhouse. Instead of being taped on to “the plastic” Martin’s head, in reality he has gotten inside “the real” Martin’s head. Stenhouse pulled away from Martin down the stretch to win in Las Vegas two weeks ago, prompting the aged veteran, with a newly formed Twitter account, to send Ricky this tweet “@55MarkMartin had a lot of fun racing you this weekend!!! Look forward to more of it!!”