No one can doubt the talent that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has, but his championship chase this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is quite different compared to his last. In 2011, Stenhouse took the standings lead with 15 races left on the schedule and didn’t look back. This season hasn’t been quite as fortuitous. With five races remaining, Stenhouse is second in the standings, nine points behind Elliott Sadler. Already deemed the ‘Comeback Kid’ of the series, Stenhouse has the opportunity to be the sixth driver in series history to win back-to-back championships if he can make up the points deficit in the last five races.
Due to a repave at Kansas Speedway, the series races at Kansas and Charlotte have been transposed on this season’s schedule. But the same five tracks make up this season’s schedule as they did a year ago and while Sadler has the standings lead by nine points, some interesting statistics point to Stenhouse making a concerted run at that lead over the next five races. Last season, Stenhouse had a better average finish (5.4) than Sadler (6.8), and he also led (117) four times as many laps as Sadler (25) over the last five races of the schedule. Stenhouse also had a better average Driver Rating (116.6) compared to Sadler (104.1) over that same span of races.
This season, both drivers have been stellar through adversity and have continued to raise each other’s game. Richard Childress Racing’s driver and series standings leader Sadler has posted three Coors Light poles, four wins, 13 top fives and 21 top 10s. His season-to-date Driver Rating (108.3) ranks second in the series and his Average Running Position (7.122) leads the series. Sadler has raised his season-to-date Driver Rating by 8.6 points compared to his performance at this point in the season last year (99.7). Roush Fenway Racing’s Stenhouse has posted four Coors Light poles, five wins, a series-high 16 top fives, and 21 top 10s. He leads the series in season-to-date Driver Rating (109.8) and ranks fourth in the series in Average Running Position (8.956). Stenhouse also has improved his season-to-date Driver Rating by 2.7 points compared to his performance at this point in the season last year (107.1).