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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The Black Hat That the Sport Desperately Needs

Photo: Roush Fenway Racing

By Toby Christie         

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is not making friends each week when he drives onto the race track. Better yet, he doesn’t seem to care. He’s there to get the best finish for his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team and he isn’t worried about what the consequences will be for the other 39 drivers in the field. And it is something that should be celebrated, as this is what the sport needs.

Whether it is fellow Ford drivers like Joey Logano, or foes from Toyota like Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. isn’t in the mood to take anything from anyone. He doesn’t shy away from contact if that’s what it takes to get the job done. Also, if you say something bad about him on the radio, Stenhouse will remember that and will not work with you in the future.

Perhaps Stenhouse, 31, can be the black hat that we need in a sport that has drifted away from it’s hardcore fan over the years.

In the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, some of the most thrilling moments of the day came at the hands of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who had a very fast Fastenal Ford Mustang. Stenhouse understood the importance of side drafting to hold off his competition and he was in a bitter battle with Erik Jones for a good portion of the race.

The two made contact several times and immediately people on social media started making new memes about Stenhouse questioning his driving ability. However, in the end, Stenhouse prevailed.

When the checkered flag was displayed, Stenhouse had worked his way to a sixth-place finish while Jones faded over the stretch to finish 13th in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Stenhouse willed his way with aggression to a solid finish much in the way Dale Earnhardt would do when his car wasn’t quite a race-winning vehicle in the late 1990’s.

Now, let’s not get heads exploding. I am in no way saying that Stenhouse has a car capable of competing at the level that Earnhardt did en route to his record-tying seven series championships, and I do not consider Stenhouse a next level talent like Earnhardt was — yet.

But who knows what the future holds.

If Roush Fenway Racing can continue to hone in on what their cars need to be more competitive week in and week out and Stenhouse can continue maximizing what he is given from week to week, the Mississippi native could be one of the more fun drivers to watch on the circuit for years to come.

One thing is for sure: Stenhouse isn’t your average corporate robotic vanilla driver, and that should be lauded.

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