HAMPTON, Ga. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is one of many drivers who can’t make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. There are no scenarios going into tonight’s AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway where he can qualify for the playoffs or even be a significant part of the late-season conversation.
While many will focus on the three drivers who can clinch a spot in the Chase, Stenhouse has an equally-important undertaking – salvaging the season.
“We’ve not gotten much accomplished of what we thought we should or the goals that we were setting out to reach, but I felt really good about our race car,” Stenhouse said.
The rookie at Roush Fenway Racing took a significant step in making the most of an otherwise frustrating season by winning the pole Friday night.
The top-10 starters have a variety of agendas. Stenhouse, Juan Pablo Montoya, who will start third and Denny Hamlin, who will be fourth, have no playoff aspirations, but all three desperately need a strong finish, if not a victory, to find some solace in a season lost.
“This is a racetrack where we hope to turn things around,” Hamlin said. “Hope to get our season turned around. We just can’t buy any luck at this point. It’s one thing to run bad, another to have stuff like last week happen) a wreck at Bristol). That’s frustrating, but tracks like Atlanta where you can pass no matter where you start, it’s a track that all these drivers are going to look forward to.”
Stenhouse replaced Matt Kenseth in Jack Roush’s No. 17 Ford this year. Kenseth, who will start sixth, has won five races – and a spot in the Chase – with his new ride at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Stenhouse is 23rd in points without a top-10 finish.
Carl Edwards will start second, followed by Montoya, Hamlin, Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin missed four races earlier this year after suffering a broken vertebra in a crash at Fontana, Calif. He also sprained his wrist in a crash last week at Bristol.
Hamlin’s also been involved in three other crashes.
“We need a solid race to take the checkered flag somewhere near the front one of these weeks,” Hamlin said. “If we can do that, we can turn this thing around.”
Johnson, Kenseth and Clint Bowyer have clinched a spot in the playoffs. Edwards (finishing 38th or better), Kevin Harvick (31st or better) and Busch (10th or better) can clinch tonight.
Earnhardt, Kahne, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano have a mathematical chance to clinch as well.
Other contenders will have to wait until next week’s race at the Richmond International Raceway to make the cut.
Everyone else will continue to make the best of it.