Updated: June 27, 2014, 7:25 PM ET

Stenhouse still seeking speed

By Mark Ashenfelter | ESPN.com

SPARTA, Ky. -- To say Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s sophomore campaign in the Sprint Cup Series has been disappointing is putting it kindly. Sitting 27th in points with just one top-5 and three top-10s is hardly what the two-time Nationwide Series champion was expecting.

Then again, Roush Fenway Racing has struggled most of the season on tracks were aerodynamics most come into play. Teammate Greg Biffle is 15th in points with just two top-5s and five top-10s. Carl Edwards leads the organization with two wins, but they came at Bristol and Sonoma, not the aero-dependent intermediate-style tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesRicky Stenhouse Jr. and his team are still trying to hit on a fast setup.

"Being off the oval last week, we worked really hard on this car, and I'm excited to get it on the racetrack and see what Mike Kelley and the guys put underneath this thing that hopefully will make it fast for us," Stenhouse said Friday at Kentucky Speedway.

Stenhouse says the team is off in numerous areas, and that has led to an increased emphasis on testing, with additional tests planned. Although the entire operation is struggling, Stenhouse knows his team has work to do as well.

It was thought that reuniting Stenhouse and crew chief Kelley, with whom Stenhouse won his Nationwide titles, would boost the driver's performance, but that hasn't been the case just yet.

"I think we've missed it as a team, as a 17 team at racetracks. I've missed it as a driver when we've had decent cars," Stenhouse said. "At Michigan I thought we had a pretty fast car and I got in the wall early, so I think that kind of ruined a chance there. Last week we had a pretty fast car at Sonoma, which last year I was 37th the whole race, and we were inside the top 10 at times, so I think at times we've got the right pieces and we've just got to put them all in our race car and make sure we don't make mistakes.

"But Jack [Roush] is definitely working really hard at making sure that the pieces that we're bringing to the race track are better than they have been. We thought we had it back earlier in the season when we had a really good car that turned right off the truck at Bristol. We all had really good runs, so we're looking to bring fast race cars to the racetrack, but everybody from [engine builder] Doug Yates to our body shop to our chassis shop, everybody is working really hard and they have their heads down digging as hard as they can."

Stenhouse's hopes went unrealized in the first practice, which was yet another struggle for Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle led the trio at 26th overall, with Edwards (28th) and Stenhouse (29th) also searching for more speed.

Johnson sees White House through fresh eyes

Meeting the president and touring the White House is old hat to Jimmie Johnson, who has been there repeatedly as Sprint Cup Series champion or as part of the driver entourage that has accompanied the champion in past seasons.

Johnson
Johnson

This year was a little different and gave Johnson a fresh appreciation of how lucky he's been. Instead of other Chase drivers also heading to the White House, this visit was reserved for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team.

Most of them, including crew chief Chad Knaus, were seeing the White House and meeting President Obama for the first time on Wednesday. So while Johnson was seeing things he'd seen before, he could see them as his team was, too.

"You end up seeing the same stuff. They are only going to give you so much access to look around in the White House. There are only so many rooms you can go in," Johnson said. "... To have my team there was the difference.

"Before, you were walking around with the other drivers and it was a great experience and fun, but to actually share those moments and watch the tour take place and all those fresh faces that are my teammates; and hear the story, go to all those different rooms, meet different Secret Service folks was fun. ... We were able to share and experience a lot of things together, and that really was the difference."

Johnson, Bowyer focus on quality of the field

With just 42 cars entered for Saturday night's Quaker State 400, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a short field for the first time since the 2001 season finale. There were just 42 cars at New Hampshire that November, a race moved from its September date in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

There were 43 cars entered for that race in September, but one team closed shop prior to the end of the season.

There were 42 cars on the initial entry list for Kentucky, and the entry of a fourth BK Racing car, for Mike Bliss, would have made it 43, but Xxxtreme Motorsport withdrew J.J. Yeley's entry at the last minute.

The size of the field has evolved over the years, with the size being set at 43 beginning in 1998. Prior to that, the field was 42, with another spot reserved for a past champion who didn't otherwise qualify. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and veteran Clint Bowyer, who have only known 43-car fields during their Cup careers, say it's no big deal.

"When you compare our form of racing to others, we have double the fields compared to a lot of other major auto racing series," Johnson said. "I hate to see it, obviously. There's that prestige of having 43 since way back. But I don't think it has any bearing on the strength of our sport.

"When I look at all the markers our sponsors look at and why they're partners on our race car, things are going in the right direction. So, I don't think it's a real reflection of the strength of our sport, [or] the strength of the competition on the track. The fact of the matter is this is the top form of racing, in my mind, in the world, and [to] some, maybe just in North America. And it's not cheap. I understand why there could be a short field, but there's no concern on my behalf."

Bowyer agrees that a quality field is more important than a "full" field.

"I don't think any set number has anything to do with the product of our racing and this sport of NASCAR. It has to do with the product and being able to put a consistent race-winning competition on that race track for our fans," Bowyer said. "I think that's what's going to make a good race. It's not any kind of number that you can ever come up with.

"I've seen some of the best races I've ever seen with the first- and second-place guy in races and just out in front of the field putting on a show, and I've also been at a local dirt track and watched the 10th- and 11th-place guys beating and banging on each other, putting on a show, and I know everybody else was. I know it has to do with competition and good racing on the race track. It doesn't matter if it's for the lead or for 43rd."

Or, as the case will be Saturday, for 41st and 42nd on the track.

• Ashenfelter is an Event News Editor at ESPN.
• Worked at NASCAR Scene for eight years.
• Has covered NASCAR since 1999.

What they're tweeting ...

***

***

***

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.