Southern dirt - thick and red, soggy and sloppy - moved Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to the big leagues of American auto racing. He's gone from a youngster driving winged sprinters in his native Mississippi to navigating the most massive motorsports venues in the world as a 26-year-old NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
There were multiple stops in between, of course. Ricky went from the Southern-based United Sprint Car Series to the popular levels of the United States Auto Club. Then, after he posted gaudy numbers in USAC and was named the top rookie in USAC's National Sprint and Midget Car series in 2007, Roush Fenway Racing came calling to promote Ricky to the upper levels of stock car racing.
In 2008, Ricky barely missed a championship in the ARCA Racing Series, leading the points standings for 13 weeks before being carelessly knocked out in the season finale.
No worries though. Ricky would get his - and a lot of it.
There were tough times in his first NASCAR Nationwide Series season of 2009, but Ricky rebounded and took the honor of the series' top rookie in 2010. The breakthrough came in May 2011, as Ricky and Roush Fenway's No. 6 Ford combined to earn their first Nationwide win at Iowa. The series championship followed, as did another in 2012.
That's back-to-back Nationwide championships in 2011 and 12 - peppered with eight victories, 35 top fives and 52 top 10s in those two seasons. Ricky became the sixth driver to win consecutive titles in NASCAR's steppingstone series, earning him a shot in the famed No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Ricky took full advantage of the opportunity by earning three top 10s, a top five and a pole in his first year on the circuit. Ricky was awarded the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year title and went straight to work for 2014.