Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s day went sour sometime around Lap 67 of Saturday’s Nationwide 300-miler at Charlotte. A faulty U joint, between the driveshaft and the transmission left the rest of his day a temporary points disaster. But some sour feelings from a championship rival, during the closing laps of the History 300?
We’ll have to see how quickly that turns into ancient history. Tempers flared shortly after the final restart, Stenhouse at that point 22 laps down after spending time fixing broken parts inside the garage. But that didn’t keep him from racing hard around the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon, fighting for a top-10 spot. The competition was clean but hard-fought, to the point Dillon’s team became increasingly frustrated with having to battle a guy laps off the pace.
Finally, the Richard Childress Racing Rookie let loose shortly after Stenhouse passed him for good. “If I get to the [No.] 6, tell him I’ll hit him as soon as he messes with me!” Dillon yelled to his spotter.
“He deserves it,” car owner Richard Childress said, immediately backing up his grandson on the radio. “Pr*ck.”
Lucky for Stenhouse, the No. 6 car was fast enough to pull away, jumping several seconds ahead of the No. 3 by the checkered flag. But after the race, the point leader admitted to some gamesmanship in reminding both Dillon and rival Elliott Sadler of his car’s presence on the track.
“I just wanted to let them know we’re here to win,” he said. “Obviously, we pulled away by more than a straightaway so … they didn’t have a very good day. That’s just part of it.”
“But we’ve got to go out there and get every lap we can, and if that means running as hard as we can, we’re trying to learn. I’m not just going to ride around.”
Once the checkers flew, Dillon had relaxed considerably. When asked, though, he stood firm on his claim that Stenhouse got too aggressive with the No. 3 car.
“He was racing everybody [despite] being laps down, but his car was fast enough I couldn’t do nothing with him,” the rookie said. “Early on, I had something and [Stenhouse] kept running outside of me and made me loose. About made me wreck… but it’s all good.”
For the points leader, whose lead shrunk to just 13 over RCR’s Elliott Sadler (and 28 over Dillon) the key remained learning about his car, especially with Charlotte back on the schedule this Fall. With long-term goals in mind, no one – not Dillon, not Sadler, not Johanna Long – was going to prevent him from pushing his No. 6 to the limit.
“I’m not going to put anyone in jeopardy of crashing their race car,” he claimed, explaining he backed off when Joey Logano and James Buescher were racing for position in front at the finish. “I’m not going to try to crash them or anything like that. I’ll be respectful to anybody out there; just when we’ve got a really fast race car like that, I like to see what we’ve got. Compare [speeds]… if we’re just running around, by ourself, it doesn’t really do anything. We need to see where we are in traffic; we need to see where we are up front. So that’s what I did.”
_Our Mike Neff contributed to this report._