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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hoping for boost from Matt Kenseth, Talladega return

In this May 7, 2017, file photo, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates after winning the Geico 500 NASCAR Monster Cup series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, in Talladega, Ala. Stenhouse Jr. returns to Talladega where he got his first Cup series win last spring, hoping to rebound from a slow start. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
In this May 7, 2017, file photo, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates after winning the Geico 500 NASCAR Monster Cup series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, in Talladega, Ala. Stenhouse Jr. returns to Talladega where he got his first Cup series win last spring, hoping to rebound from a slow start. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
By John Zenor Associated Press

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can now lean on the same guy he turned to for advice at times as a young driver trying to make it to the Cup Series.

He’s hoping the hiring of Matt Kenseth , and a return to Talladega Superspeedway , make for much-needed boosts for struggling Roush Fenway Racing this week.

The 30-year-old Stenhouse’s victory at Talladega last spring was the first Cup win of his career and put a Roush car in the playoffs, which was no small feat for the organization.

“I would like to back up what we were able to do last year with qualifying on the pole and then winning the race,” he said. “That is what we came down here to do. We feel very confident in our race cars when we come here.”

Roush could use a jolt of confidence. Once considered among the top teams in the garage, Roush drivers won 15 races in 2005 and had five cars finish in the top 10 in the standings.

But that domination declined over the ensuing decade, and Roush’s top drivers all moved on to different teams.

Although Stenhouse added a second victory last season, at Daytona in July, the organization has not won anything but restrictor-plate races since 2014.

Now Kenseth has come on board to share the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne , who has seen a drop in performance through the first nine races.

Stenhouse has been better, but has had to go to a backup car in three of the first nine races this season because he crashed in practice sessions. He has one top-5 finish this season, is 19th in the standings, and needs to improve on 1.5-mile tracks to legitimately contend for a championship.

Stenhouse is embracing the return of Kenseth, who worked with him some in what is now the Xfinity Series.

“He would run a couple races with us throughout the year and he was in our Cup cars,” Stenhouse said. “I leaned on Matt a lot my rookie year in the Nationwide Series. I called him and would ask him questions trying to figure out when I was struggling. I really had to get back on track.

“I think he did a really good job with me on that. So fast forward to now, after he left and went to (Joe Gibbs Racing) and drove different race cars, for me I am looking forward to his feedback on how our cars drive relative to another organization that is clearly one of the class of the field.”

Kenseth’s debut will be next month at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile track. Roush is hoping he’ll have a positive impact on both Bayne and Stenhouse.

“Our goal is to have Trevor continue to grow and mature on the track,” Roush team president Steve Newmark said. “We hope that Matt’s assistance with all of this will elevate not only Trevor’s performance, but also Ricky’s performance.”

Kenseth, who was not pleased with his exit at the end of last season from a full-time ride, said he’s motivated to help the organization improve.

“I feel like I can be a real asset in a lot of different ways besides just driving,” Kenseth said. “I’m really competitive, obviously, with whatever I do and if I’m not in the car, there’s nothing I want more than Ricky or Trevor to be out there running up front and improving and doing better and working hard at it and hopefully being successful.”

AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.

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