Can Ricky Stenhouse be the black hat NASCAR needs without winning?

If Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is going to be labeled as the black hat driver of NASCAR, doesn’t the driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang have to win a race?

Stenhouse Jr. won two races in 2017, both at Superspeedways. A year later he did not even make the playoffs.

Now three weeks into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and Stenhouse is already drawling the ire of some of his competitors. Of course if Stenhouse is going to be anything more than a driver who is in the way he is going to have to go to victory lane.

Though three races this season Stenhouse is 11th in points highlighted by a sixth place finish a week ago in Las Vegas. It was there that Erik Jones complained that Stenhouse raced him too hard early in the race.

Stenhouse has led laps at all three MENCS events this season and has completed all but one lap so far. If Stenhouse is going to be a contender for wins, he has to be running at the end of the race. So far so good for Stenhouse after he managed to be running 30 times over 36 races in each of the last two seasons.

The other part is Stenhouse has to finish on the lead lap.

Whether or not Roush Fenway Racing has what it takes to keep Stenhouse running on the lead lap remains to be seen. Last year he managed just 17 finishes on the lead lap, his lowest since his first full-time season in 2013.

So far teammate Ryan Newman has appeared as just a middle of the pack driver. One would expect the results of the two to be closely related given their numbers over the past two seasons and the equipment they are competing in is the same.

Stenhouse has to find victory lane in order to be the black hat NASCAR fans seek.