NASCAR 2013 Prediction No.4: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – Not Danica Patrick – Will be Top Sprint Cup Series Rookie

by Ryan Isley

Writer’s Note: This is Part 4 in a 13-Part series. Each Friday from November 23rd to February 15th, Ryan will make a prediction for the 2013 NASCAR season spanning over all three main touring series – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. On February 8th and 15th, Ryan will predict the 12 drivers who will make the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase and the Sprint Cup champion. You can check out all of the predictions here.

Picking Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to finish higher in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series than Danica Patrick in their rookie seasons was one of the easiest predictions to make for the upcoming NASCAR season.

One of the best things going for Stenhouse, Jr. this season as he enters his first full season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series just might be that he isn’t Danica. As much as it may sound like it, that isn’t actually a slam on Danica. It is more to say that while Danica will garner more of the attention from the media and fans as she too begins her first full season in NASCAR’s premier division, Stenhouse, Jr. will be able to concentrate on what he is there to do – drive a racecar.

While Danica is being given her Sprint Cup ride by Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013 for the same reasons she was given a Nationwide Series ride and a part-time Sprint Cup Series ride in 2012 (popularity over talent), Stenhouse, Jr. has earned his chance to drive full-time in the Sprint Cup Series and will drive the No.17 Ford Fusion for Roush Fenway Racing that is being vacated by Matt Kenseth, who has headed to Joe Gibbs Racing after 13 seasons.

The 25-year-old Stenhouse, Jr. proved his worth as a driver over the past two seasons, winning back-to-back series championships in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He picked up six wins, 19 top-5s and 26 top-10s in the 33 races of 2012, leading Nationwide Series regulars in wins (second only to Joey Logano with nine) and top-5s while finishing second in top-10s. He also led all series regulars in 2011 with two wins, 16 top-5s and 26 top-10s in 34 races.

Stenhouse, Jr. closed out strong to wrap up his second title, finishing in the top-10 in 17 of the last 19 races in 2012 and had 12 top-5 finishes in the last 18 races.

As for Danica, she finished the 2012 Nationwide Series season in 10th place, but had just four top-10 finishes in the 33 races and had zero wins or top-5s. She also had a strong finish to the season, as she had 11 top-15 finishes in the last 13 races after having ten top-15 finishes in the first 20 races.

Her best finish was in the sixth race of the season when she finished eighth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway – a race that was won by Stenhouse, Jr. Danica finishing behind Stenhouse, Jr. was a regular thing in 2012, as the champion finished higher than Danica in 29 of the 33 races in the Nationwide Series, including 19 of the final 20.

It wasn’t just in the Nationwide Series that it happened, either. When Danica and Stenhouse, Jr. were on the track together three times during races in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012, Stenhouse, Jr. got the best of her there too. Stenhouse, Jr. finished 11th to Danica’s 16th in the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona and then finished 20th to Danica’s 30th in the Daytona 500. They were also both entered in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway where Stenhouse, Jr. finished 12th to Danica’s 28th.

Both drivers had a taste of life in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012 other than those three races, with Stenhouse, Jr. running in four total races and Danica driving in 10.

In his four races, Stenhouse, Jr. finished 20-12-35-39, for an average finish of 26.5. His 39th-place finish was at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 400 just one day after he wrapped up his second straight Nationwide Series championship. In her 10 races, Danica had an average finish of 28.3 with a season-best 17th-place finish in her last race – the AdvoCare500 at Phoenix International Raceway. She finished 24th or worse in her other nine races and finished 29th or worse six times.

While it seems that Stenhouse, Jr. was ready for the jump to a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series, it may have benefitted Danica more if she spent another full-time season at the Nationwide Series level.

When all is said and done in 2013, Danica Patrick may get more attention and headlines, but Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will have more success and will finish the season ahead of Danica in the Sprint Cup Series standings.

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