By Lee Montgomery
Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been so hot lately that winning races is on the top of the to-do list every week.
Well, almost every week.
After dominating the Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway before finishing third two weeks ago and then winning in a wild finish at Iowa Speedway last weekend, Stenhouse Jr. has much more modest goals in this weekend's Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.
Stenhouse has never raced at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen road course. Heck, he's only made three road-course starts in his Nationwide career, and his eighth-place finish at Road America earlier this year was the first time he'd finished on the lead lap.
So winning isn't necessarily in the equation this weekend.
"We sat down earlier in the year and we circled these three road courses, Road America,
Watkins Glen and Montreal, with the superspeedways," Stenhouse said. "We said, 'Look, we need a top-10 out of these racetracks. We don't need to push the issue and try to get a top-five or a win.'
"We want to protect our car the whole race and be around at the end. We feel like if we have a racecar we charge with and have good brakes there at the end, we can finish around the top 10. That's really all we're looking for. If finish top 10 at the road course, we'll feel like that's our top five."
To get some experience at The Glen, Stenhouse will share a GT Ford Mustang in the Grand-Am race at the track this weekend with Roush Fenway Sprint Cup teammate David Ragan. He'll get close to three hours of practice time in the Grand-Am car, and then another two hours in the Nationwide car before Saturday's race.
"That's going to be a huge help," Stenhouse said, "just to get some more laps on the racetrack."
His approach to Watkins Glen is in stark contrast to recent races, where Stenhouse and
the No. 6 team have charged to the top of the Nationwide standings. He's finished in the top 10 five races in a row and in the top five in the last four events.
"It's nice showing up to the racetrack coming off a top five and ... thinking you have another shot at a top five," Stenhouse said. "Momentum definitely helps, but I don't think it's everything."
What helps more is execution, which is what Stenhouse has done the last two races. He won the pole and led 189 laps before a late-race run-in with Brad Keselowski dropped him to third. But then he qualified fourth at Iowa and led 25 laps, holding off Carl Edwards in a metal-banging finish when Stenhouse's engine blew a few hundred feet from the finish.
"We weren't going to let Iowa get away from us," Stenhouse said. "We felt like we had a really good race car there, too. We didn't lead as many laps as we did (at Indy), but it was obviously a wild and crazy finish."
Just don't expect to see that at Watkins Glen.
What: Zippo 200 at the Glen
Where: Watkins Glen International; Watkins Glen, N.Y.
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN-Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 2.45-mile road course
Race distance: 82 laps/200.9 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 9:45 a.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Marcos Ambrose
2010 polesitter: Marcos Ambrose
Points standings: 1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 787; 2. Reed Sorenson, 775; 3. Elliott Sadler, 758; 4. Aric Almirola, 710; 5. Justin Allgaier, 704; 6. Jason Leffler, 677; 7. Kenny Wallace, 674; 8. Steve Wallace, 608; 9. Michael Annett, 598; 10. Brian Scott, 596.