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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Stenhouse Stays Out Late to Earn First Top Five at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Not pitting for tires in the closing laps at a hot, slick Phoenix Raceway on a sunny afternoon might not seem like the best strategy for victory, but somehow it paid off for race winner Ryan Newman and Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Newman led the field on the final restart of the Camping World 500 with Stenhouse on the inside of his No. 31 while the leaders pitted. Stenhouse finished fourth — marking the first top five of 2017 for RFR.

“[Brian] Pattie (crew chief) wanted to stay out and I kind of questioned it. Then when it came down to it, ‘Hey, everyone is coming!’ but I already committed to staying out,” Stenhouse said. “I think his gut instinct was right to stay out and that’s what I went with.”

The fifth-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver knew the cars behind him had fresh tires for the last restart, including new points leader Kyle Larson, who finished second for a third consecutive week.

“I thought the 42 (Larson) would run around the top. I was hoping I could get back to the 31,” Stenhouse said. “It didn’t fire off as well as we wanted and I was really loose. I was glad it got all the way to the checkered because if it were to have caution after caution, it’d have been trouble.”

Stenhouse has had a tough start to the season. He had finishes of 31st, 13th and 33rd in the first three races and found himself sitting 29th in the standings after Las Vegas. But he hasn’t lost confidence in his No. 17 team and believes he’ll contend for wins this year.

“It’s kind of hard to see [hard work] pay off. We’ve had some mechanical failures, bad restarts at the end, and getting fenders torn up,” he added. “We thought we could have finished top-five in Atlanta. In Vegas, we had a 15th-place car, and we had a mechanical failure.

“I think the speed is there — we’re just fine tuning to make sure we don’t make mistakes.”

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John Haverlin

John Haverlin is currently studying Communication at Arizona State University. He has been a reporter at Phoenix International Raceway for three years and has written news stories for the track's official site. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Haverlin has lived in Arizona the past three years.