By Farrah Kaye
Staff Writer, NNSracing.com
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and current points leader, has had a great start to the 2011 season.
Stenhouse has had one pole, one top-five and four top-10 finishes and led 38 laps in just five races. Compare that to 2010, where he led a total of only 40 laps. Although sponsorship has been up in the air, Easy Feet will be on the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
"We have had a consistent start to the season," Stenhouse said. "We evaluated during this past week ... some of the things we need to work on the rest of the year to run consistent top-five and battle for wins. I feel like we have a good handle on it and am glad to be here in Texas."
As for this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300, Stenhouse says he likes Texas and is ready for the race.
"This race track is one that I have liked since I first got here," Stenhouse said. "I think it is the first 1.5-mile track that I ran wide open last year and felt comfortable at. Obviously we have to navigate the bump in (Turns) 1 and 2, but after Las Vegas with the bumps we went over in our Mustang there I think we have a good handle on that.
"I feel like it is a drivers track and you really have to stand up in the seat and use a lot of throttle. That is the kind of track I like."
Stenhouse adds that his season is starting out well because he has more confidence coming back to tracks he's been to before as well as not making "mental mistakes" and is more focused.
But despite leading the points, Stenhouse hasn't won a race yet - and neither has a non-Sprint Cup driver. Stenhouse admits there is pressure on him (and the other regulars) to win races in order for some to view the Championship as "legitimate."
"I think we need to get some wins so that we can say that this was a legitimate championship effort," Stenhouse said. "If we can get those wins with the Cup guys there, that is what we want to do. Not just on standalone races; we want to do it with the Cup guys racing."
One of the big stories in the off-season was the "pick a series" idea that put the spotlight on the Nationwide-only drivers. Does Stenhouse feel it's made a difference in the series?
"I think Nationwide Insurance and the Nationwide series have done a great job with it," Stenhouse said. "I almost feel like it is a Nationwide-regulars competition. We have more regulars in the top-five and running up there with the Cup guys. I think it is definitely giving us a lot more spotlight than what we had last year
"I feel like it is a little more of a reality to go in there and not have to compete with Kyle Bush and Carl Edwards for the championship. The way we are running this year though I feel like we could be in the hunt with those guys a little more than we were last year."