A NASCAR rookie hasn't won a Sprint Cup Series race in nearly four years. But Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made a valiant effort to do just that before an untimely caution ended his bid.
Running in the top 10 all afternoon, Stenhouse took the lead on lap 191 of the 267-lap race. From there, the Cup rookie drove away from the field and opened up a comfortable lead.
However, after a routine green-flag pit stop and before the running order cycled around, a caution waved for a piece of debris from Brad Keselowski's car. This trapped Stenhouse a lap down and he was never able to regain the lost track position.
That he was able to rally and finish 11th only made his run all the more impressive.
"It was fun," Stenhouse said. "We started up front, ran up front, lost our track position and then got it back and were able to lead some laps. We pitted under green and it really got us when the caution came out, but all in all, I think we can take a lot of positives from this weekend."
For Stenhouse, the 2011 and '12 Nationwide Series champion, the result was much-needed following back-to-back races where he had looked, well, like a rookie.
At Martinsville two weeks ago he finished two laps down in 25th and he followed that up with a 40th at Texas, which was a byproduct of a cut tire.
Sunday, however, Stenhouse looked anything like a driver who had just 13 starts underneath his belt.
Because of a recent resurfacing, the Kansas oval didn't afford a lot of passing opportunities and the tricky conditions weren't helped when the sun peeked out mid-race, which changed the characteristics of the track.
A lot of drivers struggled with the transition including Stenhouse's teammate, Carl Edwards, who Stenhouse passed for the lead with a bold move.
"He (Edwards) came down there and slid up in front of us a couple times and I had to check up," Stenhouse said. "But it was cool getting to lead some laps for Roush Fenway."
Edwards would apologize for holding his teammate up. Not that Stenhouse was bothered any, after a race that can be seen as a breakthrough performance.
"It was fun to get up there and lead some laps in a Cup car," he said. "We haven't done that and that was the first time we had been up there leading laps and felt like we had a car in contention to beat some of those guys.
"I just wish the cautions would have fell a little bit different."