- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2012

SPARTA, KY. (AP) - Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was shocked it was such a big deal.

When it was revealed last week that Roush Fenway Racing would promote him into Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth’s spot when Kenseth leaves after the season, the 24-year-old Mississippian was overwhelmed by the response.

“I guess I didn’t really realize it was going to be that big when they announced it,” he said, grinning. “It was pretty cool, seeing everything on Twitter and everybody texting me. It was like I won a race.”

Stenhouse had been told about the move but had been sworn to secrecy. He couldn’t keep the news to himself.

So he told his parents. But they didn’t really grasp the immensity of what had just happened for their son _ until the word spread officially the next day.

“They were very excited,” he said from underneath a wide, white cowboy hat. “It was really cool to see the reaction.”

It was huge news throughout NASCAR that Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide Series champion, would be moving up to the Sprint Cup Series. Not to mention that Kenseth was moving elsewhere.

A week after first being told by Roush Fenway owner Jack Roush, Stenhouse still isn’t exactly certain what to make of all the hubbub.

“Early in the year we were talking about running some Cup races toward the end of the year to get ready for next year,” said Stenhouse, who rode up for this week’s race at Kentucky Speedway with his parents in their motorhome. “I think Jack had the idea we were going to do that, no matter what. I’m not sure what all happened. I just got a call that said that we were going to run and that Matt was not coming back. I have no idea how it went down but I just got the phone call and never would have expected that.”

Others aren’t surprised at all. Stenhouse has shown a steady hand in his four years in the Nationwide Series, sort of the Triple-A to the major-league Sprint Cup. He won two races a year ago while winning the series title, and has three wins and stands in third place this year.

“If you win the championship at the second or third tier, I think that’s obviously a glowing endorsement that you’re ready to enter the Sprint Cup Series,” said Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski. “That speaks for itself. That shows right there that he’s ready for the opportunity.”

Making such a dramatic move can sometimes backfire on a team, turning its focus to inner turmoils instead of winning races. But another top driver, Kevin Harvick, said it can sometimes have the opposite effect.

“Sometimes it makes them better, because everybody wants to prove everybody else wrong,” he said.

So while everyone keeps an eye on where Kenseth winds up _ he has yet to announce where he’ll end up although rumors are it will be Joe Gibbs Racing _ Stenhouse looks forward to the challenges ahead.

He says he will sit down soon and discuss his schedule with his bosses. No, he doesn’t know what number car he will drive next year: the No. 17 vacated by Kenseth, or possibly Roush’s flagship No. 6 in the Cup Series. That’s also been his car number in Nationwide.

All he knows for certain is he’d love to go out with a second straight series title.

“We can go into this with a little more confidence, a little more pep in our step,” he said. “Our team’s pumped up about it, excited for me. I’m excited about it. It puts a lot of confidence in me that Jack Roush and everybody at Roush Fenway has the belief in me to go out there and run that car next year. It gives us a little bit of an extra edge going into the rest of the season and to finish it off on a strong note. That’s the only way we can go out, to win a championship.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.

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