FORT WORTH, Texas — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hardly had the body language of the new Nationwide Series points leader.
Kevin Harvick won the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway, but Stenhouse's fourth-place finish — far better than he believed was capable with the car he had Saturday night — moved him to the top spot in the standings with two races to go as he tries to defend his series championship.
“It wasn't a great night for us,” Stenhouse said. “We felt we had a better car in practice.
“I didn't think we would get it back to a top-five car. We took advantage of that second-to-last restart and got our track position, and that was the best we could do.”
For points purposes, Stenhouse benefitted the most, with the top three finishers being non-points racers on the Nationwide Series — Harvick, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch.
Mathematically, Stenhouse and previous leader Elliott Sadler are tied with 1,170 points, but Stenhouse is considered the leader via tiebreaker, with six wins on the season to four for Sadler.
Following an 11th-place finish from Sadler, team owner Richard Childress said he still felt good about his driver's championship chances.
“He got real tight there at the end. And the cars that took tires (on the last restart) got him, and that cost him a few spots,” Childress said. “I still feel real good about what he can do.”
In third place in the standings, rookie Austin Dillon narrowed his deficit to 21 points with a sixth-place finish. The series closes with races in Phoenix and Miami the next two weeks.
“It was a great points night. We battled back and now we go on to Phoenix,” Stenhouse said. “Disappointed, because we wanted the win.
“But I feel good about where we are.”