Out of contention

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently sits at 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings.

TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY -- A year after a career-best 13th-place finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s stock took a bit of a tumble in 2018.

Currently 20th in points, Stenhouse Jr. finds himself racing for pride in Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway -- a track where he picked up his first Cup win 17 months ago.

“It’s always fun coming back home and coming back to the place of your first win,” he said. “It’s nice because friends and family come down, and I get to see them …

“I’m excited to get back on the track. I think we had a really good run here in the spring. I wish I would have done some things different in the spring coming down (to) those last few laps, so hopefully, I learned a little something there so when it comes down to it, we can put ourselves in a little bit better position to cross the finish line first.”

Stenhouse Jr., from Memphis, Tennessee, finished fifth at Talladega in the spring, one of his two Top 5 finishes in 2018.

Racing at Talladega Superspeedway may cause Stenhouse Jr.’s critics to conjure up ill memories of the July Daytona race where he caused multiple crashes, but Stenhouse Jr said he’s not concerned with any criticism he may face leading up to Sunday.

“I think we’re all in this business and get criticized for something all the time,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “I feel like a lot of fans criticize us. They’re the ones watching in the grandstands and they don’t change the way I race. I’m going to go out there, put on a show and try to put our Sunny D Ford in Victory Lane. That’s my only concern for our team.”

Stenhouse Jr. also weighed in on fellow driver Kasey Kahne, who announced earlier in the week he would miss the remainder of the 2018 season due to health concerns related to heat illnesses. Stenhouse Jr. said dehydration is one of the biggest concerns, especially given how hot it can get inside a car.

“There’s days where you feel pretty bad afterwards when you’re sweating so much,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “If anything, it’s nice to at least know and you’ve done some testing. Maybe we can look at those results and actually see if there’s a way to maybe be a little more proactive about it, maybe when you start feeling those symptoms as far as being run down and things like that after a race.

“There’s no doubt that (Kahne) probably had issues with his performance over the years and maybe not knowing that those issues were there. It’s definitely a bummer that he couldn’t finish out this season with us.”