NASCAR: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Delivered Chevrolet’s 25th Daytona 500 Victory
For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 47 Kroger / Cottonelle Camaro ZL1, has earned his name a spot on the prestigious Harley J. Earl trophy after taking the victory in the 65th running of the Daytona 500. Stenhouse Jr. drove his Chevrolet-powered machine through two overtime finishes to capture his third career victory in NASCAR’s premier series.
“This Kroger / Cottonelle team worked really, really hard in off-season,” said Stenhouse Jr. “Great pit stops, Hendrick engines. Glad a Chevy won.”
“Man, this is unbelievable,” continued Stenhouse Jr. as he stood in front of the sold out Daytona crowd. “This was the site of my last win back in 2017. We’ve worked really hard. We had a couple shots last year to get a win and fell short. It was a tough season, but man, we got it done. Daytona 500!”
The 35-year-old JTG Daugherty Racing driver’s trip to victory lane in the crown jewel event gives Chevrolet its 25th Daytona 500 victory and 50th all-time NASCAR Cup Series victory at Daytona International Speedway, extending the manufacturer’s series-leading win count at the 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway. The milestone victory marks Chevrolet’s 834th victory in NASCAR’s premier series, with the win by the winningest manufacturer in NASCAR Cup Series history officially marking the start of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary year.
“Congratulations to Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Mike Kelley and the entire No. 47 Kroger Camaro ZL1 team on winning their first Daytona 500,” said Jim Campbell, General Motors Vice President of Performance and Motorsports. “Ricky made the right moves at the right time to bring it home. And it’s extra special because this is also Chevrolet’s 25th win in The Great American Race.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR., NO. 47 KROGER / COTTONELLE CAMARO ZL1 – Press Conference Transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined on the stage by the 2023 Daytona 500 champion, Ricky Stenhouse, driver of the No. 47 Kroger Continental Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing.
Just give us your thoughts about winning the Great American Race, Ricky.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Man, I think back to really all week, but really think back to this morning. I woke up and felt really good about the day. I normally don’t get nervous, but I was a little nervous, but like anxious and excited, ready to go.
My wife and I, Madison, we went in the gym and did a small little workout just to get going this morning and just felt relaxed, felt good about the day, knew our car was strong after Friday’s practice.
Mike and our engineers made some really good adjustments after the Duels on Thursday and felt really good about our car. We did two 20-lap runs and stayed on the same set of tires for that practice session on Friday night and felt good with the adjustments that we made, and the car did everything that I needed it to do.
The only thing that we didn’t have when we started the race was track position. We started 31st, and first stage, I felt like was getting a little hectic up front and was just kind of a parking lot.
We were just side by side for the whole stage. We just kind of rode around and just kind of watched it.
Then we got track position there in the second stage. Was able to get some points. Felt like we might have got snookered a little bit there on the strategy a lot, pitted, but it was nice to get up front and learn what the car was doing up front, which I think was beneficial for once we had those restarts late.
Once we sped on pit road, kind of thought our race was over, but felt like the good Lord was watching out for us. I was serving the penalty, and then all of a sudden had a big wreck right there kind of where we were running, getting in Turn 1.
That gave us a second chance, and I knew that my team was — Tuesday’s meeting was not going to be very good because we preached all off-season about not beating ourselves, and there I went speeding on pit road, just trying to get — really wasn’t trying to get everything out of it, but got a little too much.
So I felt like once the caution came out I really had to kind of put my elbows up and get back to the front to give us another shot to win so I at least could tell my guys that we had a shot to win.
Once we got up there, the 8, 3, 24, and myself, obviously we cleared the 17 and 6 and put all Chevys in the top four. And then I was blocking the 22 and he got up underneath me, and I kind of thought our race was over at that point, and then we had that restart.
The 17 and 6 chose the bottom, which kind of shocked me a little bit. Gave us the 6th starting position behind the 22, and with the 8 and 3 on the front row, I thought that they might try kind of the old-school restart of pulling down in front of each other. I knew that that would give our outside lane a huge run off of 2.
Kyle was pushing me like crazy down the backstretch, and I waited just long enough to go to the bottom once he was clear, as well, and that gave us the lead.
I was hoping we were going to get back to the white at that moment, and we didn’t. Big wreck behind us, and again, a perfect scenario for me.
I picked the top. I felt like our car was better on the top, and I knew Kyle was going to take the front row. You can’t give up a front row starting position. I was just hoping that Bell was going to go third because I felt like Logano and that manufacturer was a really good pusher.
Once we went green, we got the lead. I was a little nervous because we were low on fuel. Our low fuel light started flashing at me, so I knew we needed to get back to the white, and once we did that, I felt like we could make it all the way back around.
But the 22 had a huge run. Got to my outside. Kyle had a huge run and he kind of shipped the middle, and then I looked in my mirror and here comes Christopher and gave me a big shot down the short chute there into 1 caution and got out front enough for when the caution came out.
So everything played out perfectly for us at the end of that. It’s the Daytona 500. It’s a long race. You’re going to have good parts and bad parts, but we just kept pushing through.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins #DAYTONA500!!!! pic.twitter.com/BM05owlAgD
— IndyCar Transporter (@Indys18Wheels) February 20, 2023
I talked to Mike right after the race, and he said that you took him somewhere he had never been before, and now it was up to him to take you back. He wasn’t going to stop until he got you back to where you deserved to be. When you have that kind of relationship with somebody, and before you were in here he said you even shared a bed once —
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yes, we have.
Can you just reflect on that, and somebody who cares enough about you to see you to the end?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, I think it was really big for myself. Not winning since 2017, having struggles, ups and downs, to have somebody like Mike, who when he took over the reins as soon as the season was over, it was, hey, I know you can still get this done. We’ve just got to give you the right opportunities. We know if we give you cars capable of running up front, you can do that. We’ve proven that.
I felt like his leadership throughout the whole shop is still not even — yeah, we won here at the Daytona 500, but I still think the fruits of that is going to come later on from his leadership in the shop and making sure — most of these guys that we have are the same guys we had last year. But he believes in myself more than I do, I think, and that’s huge.
I feel like that’s what separates crew chiefs these days, is that team aspect and leading your guys and getting the most out of them. We all have similar equipment, and that wasn’t always the case in this sport, so now it’s little nuances like that that help propel a race team forward.
We all felt confident this off-season, but it’s special to do it with Mike. We accomplished so much together. We’ve gone through ups and downs. He’s been in the sport a long time. He’s a Cup champion as a car chief with Kurt Busch. I think he’s won this race before, not as a crew chief, obviously, and our Nationwide Series Championships and race wins were something that we’re super proud of.
But we know those were 10 years ago and we need to make some new memories.
What makes you such a good superspeedway racer?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Man, I don’t know. So when we were in the Nationwide Series it really wasn’t one of my favorite things to do. We had some good runs, but I don’t feel like I knew exactly what I was doing. I was always looking forward to the mile-and-a-half racetracks in the Nationwide Series.
In my Cup career we got some good finishes in superspeedway racing, but it was more of laying in the back, missing the wrecks, not really being on the offense. Then when I was at Roush Fenway, Jimmy Fennig kind of took over our speedway program, and felt like at that moment he gave us cars that had speed that you could go on the offense, that you could make big runs, you could make passes, you could learn the side draft, and I felt like that’s when I learned a lot about superspeedway racing and really felt confident to make runs and study what the leaders were doing, how they were staying up front.
I feel like at the end of the races there’s generally similar guys at the front of these races, and it’s — yeah, some of its luck, but a lot of it’s skill and your spotter, the way y’all work together.
Mike Herman Jr when we were at Roush Fenway, felt like he was a good superspeedway spotter. Tab Boyd came on the market last off-season, two seasons ago, and we were lucky enough to pick him up. I felt like that upped our game over here at JTG Daugherty Racing on the superspeedways, and they gave me fast race cars, as well.
It takes a combination of all those things.
In your opinion, what do you think has been holding JTG back from taking that next step?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: I came from Roush Fenway Racing and saw all the resources that they had and the support from the manufacturer, and then I went to JTG Daugherty Racing, and honestly I was surprised at how much nice equipment and how they ran things and how much of the car they actually built.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure what it was going to look like when it went into the race shop.
But now for us to kind of take that next step, obviously this is our second season with this new car, and we’ve got more help from Chevrolet. We’ve been in the simulator way more in this off-season than we were all of last year.
Things like that, the resources that Chevy is going to help us out with, our alliance that we’ve built with Rick Hendrick Racing. Rick has been a great supporter of JTG Daugherty Racing in the past. We’ve been using their engines. I think that’s going to be a huge help for us, as well.
Like Mike said, I caught the tail end of it there, this is huge for us, but I’m honestly super excited to get to Fontana, Las Vegas. Obviously we had a decent test at Phoenix. We weren’t where we need to be on the short tracks yet, but we were so far off last year that the things that we’ve had — our tools that we’ve had this off-season, we feel like we’ve made those short tracks better already, and we’re looking forward to getting to those racetracks.
When you come to Daytona or Talladega or even Atlanta, is your confidence much, much higher than it would be elsewhere?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Definitely, but I think everybody’s is. But when you’ve been to a racetrack where you’ve been to Victory Lane in the Cup Series, you know how it works. The position that we put ourselves in this race last year, I think we led — I don’t know, I was rewatching it actually as I was getting ready to go out to the grid today. We were leading the last 20 or so laps here last year and we got crashed there on a late-race restart with five to go.
I told my guys this off-season coming into this week, if we can get in that same position again I would take it, and hopefully things worked out a little bit better, and there we were with a green-white-checkered. We had the lead and controlled the restart.
Yeah, so I definitely have confidence coming back to these places.
In 2018 when you were at Roush and know you’re not coming back, are you thinking my career is over? And kind of the same thing, did you have any of those thoughts last year when you’re trying to do a contract extension at JTG knowing you hadn’t won yet with that team?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, that was 2019. Yeah, that was something unexpected. Honestly, I kind of thought I had a contract through 2023, so that was the kind of crazy part about all that.
My management team, Josh Jones at KHI jumped on the call on the phone as soon as we met with Roush Fenway at the time and got a hold of Tad and Ernie and started working the doors there. I had some great partners with Sunny D, who also stepped up and called on my behalf.
Had a lot of great supporters that I felt confident in, of getting me a good job, and when I got over to JTG Daugherty Racing, like I said, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was super impressed with their whole race team and how they ran it.
I was looking forward to getting this car technically a year prior because I felt like once we were in comparable equipment to everybody else that they had all the right people to get the most out of the race cars.
I felt like I could do the job behind the wheel.
Yeah, we had done my contract a lot earlier than we announced it, so I think — I don’t know, maybe you asked me about it and I forgot that we had done it a long time ago. I don’t think we show up to the racetrack — JTG Daugherty Racing has got realistic expectations.
We’re building this program together. We were excited when we got, like I said, a car that was comparable to everybody else’s. Knowing it was going to be some growing pains over last season. We knew that. There was times we had a lot of hope. We went a month straight with our worst finish of eighth, but then we kind of fell off.
The bigger teams were able to learn a lot more at a faster rate, and I felt like that’s what got us behind. This off-season we’ve really focused on that, and I’m excited to go to these racetracks like Fontana, Las
Vegas, and really see the potential that we’ve gained over this off-season.
You started racing when you were a young kid, and every kid dreams of winning the Daytona 500. I know you won here before in July, but what was it like just being out there in Victory Lane, being on the start-finish line just knowing that you were the champion?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, it’s super cool. Like you said, I’ve been racing a long time. I grew up going to the racetrack. My mom took me to watch my dad when I was six weeks old, and I’ve been going to a racetrack for an average of 40 weekends a year I would say my whole life.
I came down here in 2006? Jeff over here has been a long supporter of my career. Him and I, he’s a Tennessee guy. He had met with Bobby Hamilton at the time. His shop was in Nashville. We flew over there, walked through Bobby Hamilton’s race shop. He invited us down to the Daytona 500 for the track race, we jumped down, and Bobby Hamilton won that race that year.
You could see an awkward kid standing behind him during his interview, and that was me. That was in 2006.
I was impressed with this racetrack. I had never been to anything like it. I went to my first Cup race was like the ’92 Coke 600 back in the day. But like I was finally old enough to kind of picture everything.
So since then, that was kind of the goal is to try and get here and race. Then 2008 was the first time I ever made laps around here in the ARCA car, and I’ve gotten to race this racetrack when it was the old-school racetrack where it was worn out, it was rough, a ton of fun.
I feel like it’s starting to get a little bit of that character back, but yeah, it’s been a dream for a long time, and super cool for us to be here.
I remember seeing that clip around the internet, you in the background.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, awkward.
Going forward, Mike talked about finding your mojo again. What does this win do for you already, and what do you want to say?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, we’re not done. I think Mike and I got a lot of things left to do. Again. It’s been a short off-season. I feel like we’ve — Mike has moved the needle on where this race team is at. Like I said, the resources I feel like we have now, moving forward throughout the 2023 season, there’s still a lot left to prove that we can go be competitive on all racetracks.
And yeah, it’s a speedway win, which is huge. It’s the Daytona 500. You’ve got to be able to win on them all. Throughout my career, Mike and I have won on short tracks, mile-and-a-halfs, and superspeedways.
We do feel like mile-and-a-half racetracks are probably our bread and butter right now with this race car, excluding the superspeedways. But we know that we’ve got a lot of work left to do on the short tracks.
Yeah, this gives us a boost of confidence, but I know we’re going to enjoy this one tonight. But I know that everybody in the shop and all these guys on this race team are looking forward to getting to Fontana and kind of seeing where we shake out after everything we’ve learned this off-season.
When you’re a single-car team and it’s the end of the Daytona 500, even though you had some Chevys that were helping you out, did you feel like the lone wolf out there?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yes and no. Obviously throughout the whole race, even — I watched a lot of the first stage from my view. I was close enough where I could just watch the leaders, and I wasn’t really doing any racing.
Yeah, I was watching all the teammates work really well together up there. We’ve had Chevy meetings this whole week, and we preached about trying to get Chevrolet their 25th Daytona 500. We talked about working together.
We didn’t do great Thursday night in the Duels, in the first Duel. We learned a lot, and they transferred that on to the second Duel, and felt like our strategies worked really well today.
That was huge for us. Like you said, when I got down to it, the top 4 were Chevys at one point and I felt really good about that, that we could kind of control the race.
And then when the 5 lined up behind me, I knew that if we got a run, he would probably go with me, or I was really hoping so, and we were able to — you know, kind of shook the 22 out and both be first and second there.
Then the last restart, yes, you need teammates, but at that moment, as long as you had a good pusher behind you, I knew the 22 wasn’t going to just go to the outside of me because you’ve got to get the momentum going, and the momentum is in numbers, and I was confident in what Joey could do pushing me, and then it was kind of a free for all once you take the white flag.
There aren’t a lot of sprint and midget drivers that have won the Daytona 500, but now you’re the latest to have done that. To know that you follow in the footsteps of guys like Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt and Ryan Newman who have done that here, how important is that to you to show to the grass-roots of America that you can come from that type of background and win the Daytona 500?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, it’s special to me. I know Kyle has done a lot for dirt track racing, open wheel racing. Christopher Bell, you look at what Alex Bowman is doing now going back and forth and running sprint cars.
I have a lot of fun running with my dad. We don’t run as much as everybody else does, but definitely still a short track dirt racer.
I know how long and how important this race was when Tony, my former boss, tried to win this race for a long time. I looked up on the screen during one of those late cautions when the 8 was leading, and they were showing I think it was his 17th attempt, and it was our 12th.
I know how hard it is for guys to win this race, and it’s nice to go ahead and get that checked off the list.
Jodi and Tad were in earlier and were asked about their longtime involvement in the sport and the efforts they’ve made to keep going. Even though that hasn’t always translated into trips to Victory Lane, I just wondered, you sort of had what many would have called a breakout year in 2017 where you picked up a couple wins. Has it been difficult since then? What have you felt at some point, that you might give up?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Definitely never thought about giving up. I felt like, yeah, 2017, winning a couple races was huge for us, but I’ll even look back at that season, and we still weren’t super stellar. We had our ups and downs. But obviously two wins kind of puts a Band-Aid on some of those things that you can overlook.
But I think for me, coming to JTG Daugherty Racing was a nice reset. We had two cars at the time, moved to a single-car team, which I think has been beneficial. We’ve been able to put a lot of focus on the 47 car, and everybody in the shop, I feel like the details are really paid attention to. We’ve got some of the best guys in the shop.
It’s super neat to see how long Tad and Jodi have been in the sport. Around our shop, you see pictures of Tad going over the wall, doing jack man and tire changes, and they’re out helping sponsors nonstop around here. You partner them with Brad and Gordon and Mark, they make a great team.
It’s super cool to get them in Victory Lane. We had a great moment this off-season I feel like at our team lunch. Had a video put together, and it put some of JTG’s wins in there, my wins in there, and kind of helped us realize that, hey, we need these wins together, and realized that we could do that.
We’ve both done it in our past, so it’s special to do it together.
Obviously it’s a big milestone for you, but when you look at Jodi and Brad, it’s a milestone for NASCAR. How key is this thing for maybe the broader picture of where NASCAR is headed?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, NASCAR has been doing such a great job of getting everyone involved in our sport. Even going out to areas of the country where we’re not so prominent in. You look at LA, going to Chicago, getting down in some of the inner cities and getting those fans interested in NASCAR.
We’ve got a lot of diversity on our race team, throughout the garage, and it’s cool to have two on our race team and put them in Victory Lane here at the Daytona 500. It’s super special, and NASCAR is leading the way in a big way.
It’s cool to play a small part of getting them to Victory Lane.
I saw on the replay there that you climbed up the fence after your victory there. Was that something you have thought about doing if you won this race, or was that spur of the moment?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: I feel like you never try and think about what you’re going to do when you win a race, especially the Daytona 500. My crew guys were out there. It was a bummer that I wasn’t able to do a burnout because we didn’t have any fuel left, so that was a bummer. I’m sure the Hendrick engine shop appreciates that.
When I won my first sprint car race my dad climbed the fence, and then my first ARCA win in 2008 at Kentucky, he was in the grandstands, and we both climbed up the fence and met at the top. Then when I won Talladega, he climbed the fence on the backstretch where he always watches the races there.
Got out there, and the crew guys were like, hey, let’s climb the fence. Then I did the interview and turned around and they were gone, so I decided to go ahead and climb it myself. Yeah, just spur of the moment.
Any word from Tony Stewart or Helio Castroneves, what they thought of it?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: I’m not sure. I know Tony didn’t do pull-ups when he got to the top. I know Helio can definitely do pull-ups when he gets to the top. I’ve done some workouts with him. Yeah, I haven’t checked my phone to see if Tony said anything yet.
Do you come into this race every year assuming there will be a string of accidents in the last five or ten laps, and do you sort of steel yourself that you’re going to have to make some quick decisions because of all that?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, for sure. You look at really any speedway race these days, and they’re all like that. Every one of us out there know it’s a really good opportunity to get to Victory Lane. Our cars are all comparable on speed, and the draft is obviously kind of an even playing field there for the most part.
When we lost our track position after I sped on pit road, I think we were like 29th, and we were going to come in and top off and maybe put some new tires on, but we know track position is so important. Mike said if five or six in front of us pit, let’s stay out. That’s just five or six less that we have to pass in a 14-lap run to the finish.
We did that. I felt like it was a huge strategy play to give us a shot.
Then yeah, it was chaos at the end. I got a good restart on the top, jumped to the bottom, and there was cars bouncing off the wall, bouncing off each other, somehow all keeping them going straight. But my line that I was in every time seemed to carry the momentum, and then all of a sudden I looked up and we were in, I think, seventh at the time.
After that, it got a little bit calmer, but we were all pushing each other like crazy. Throughout the whole race, you’re pushing in key parts of the racetrack. You push once you get in the flat off of Turn 2, get your momentum down the backstretch. You release getting into Turn 3, and then you get close again kind of through Turn 3, and try and carry that momentum all the way back down the frontstretch. Not a lot of bump drafting, and then a lot of bump drafting down the backstretch again.
I felt like everybody did a really good job of being smart and kind of methodical throughout the race, but when you’re in 10 to go, it’s like we all lose our mind and push the whole time. These cars are difficult to drive when you’re getting pushed all the way around the racetrack.
How important do you feel the Next-Gen car and the, so to speak, leveling of the playing field contributed, or how important that was do you think in your race team being able to pull this off this evening?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: I don’t think this car helped us pull this off at Daytona. If you look at my very first race here at Daytona, we sat on the pole with the old-school car. That was huge.
I felt like with the older car, I felt like we had race cars capable of winning while being here at JTG Daugherty Racing.
I think the car going forward at other racetracks is where we feel like it helps kind of level the playing field to a point. Like I said, I think last season the bigger teams learned at a faster rate. We hit on some stuff for about a month and felt really good, and then we kind of seemed to lose ground to some of those bigger teams.
We looked to make that jump this past off-season. I feel like we’ve made some big gains, and we’re looking forward to this car making competition more and more throughout the season.
In the years since you got your first two wins back in 2017, there’s been a lot of criticism and jokes made at your expense because of your aggressive driving style in these races and accidents you may or may not have caused. On a night like this, on this stage, when everyone else is in the garage fixing torn-up cars and you’re crossing the finish line, at least not much of a scratch on your car, do you feel like you got the last laugh tonight?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Obviously you’re going to have haters everywhere, and when you have somebody at the time like Kyle Busch getting out and bashing you, that’s difficult to overcome.
I mean, I feel like I’ve put myself in some bad spots throughout my career, but the faster we get our cars, the more I can take care of them and still run them close to the front. It’s something I’ve always tried to do, which is at some times an expense, is try and take a car and try and get way more out of it than what’s there.
I feel like that’s my job to do as a race car driver, is to get the most speed out of a race car that you can, but also in this sport you’ve got to take care of it, and you can’t just leave it all out there every single race.
That’s something that I felt like this off-season we’ve kind of met, and Mike is super confident in what he can do and what our engineers and team can give me, and we’ll assess each weekend after practice and after qualifying what our goals are for that given race day.
So I think we’ll do a better job of kind of setting our realistic expectations each week. If we feel like 15th is where we need to be that given week, then that’s where I’m going to try and get the car to and not try and get it to 10th or 5th like I tend to do.
That’s something that we’re going to be super focused on this year of finishing races. Mike brought up this off-season back in the Nationwide Series when we had fast race cars, in 2011 we finished, I think, 98.9 percent of the laps, and in 2012 I think we finished 98.2 percent of the laps, and the only laps we didn’t finish were crashes at superspeedways.
We know that we can do that together as a race team, and we’re looking forward to showing everybody that.
Where is the party going to be tonight?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: I don’t know yet. Somewhere. We will be here for a long time.
Throughout this whole week I’ve heard drivers say that winning the Daytona 500 is circumstantial, but you just mentioned that you use a lot of strategy to win this race. Can you please explain now that you’ve won the Daytona 500, what are your thoughts on what it takes to win this race?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Definitely circumstantial at times. But like I said earlier, you look at the history of this race, you look at the history of superspeedway racing, and a lot of the same guys are towards the front.
Since 2016-ish, I feel like we are some of those contenders that are at the front of those races towards the end of the race. This race, it’s a long race. Like I said, the first stage, we didn’t have track position. But I felt like I kind of went to school watching what the leaders were doing so that when I got there, I kind of knew what to expect.
Then we got there, and I felt really good being in the top 5 there at the end of that second stage. I felt like I pushed the 48 really well. The 48, 1, and myself I felt like really controlled some of those last few laps coming to the stage end.
Yeah, it’s circumstantial. You’ve got to catch breaks at the right time. You’ve got to be able to make moves, and your line has got to go. But you’re also looking ahead. Your spotter is giving you all the information that he can to make sure that you have all the info to figure out which lane to be in.
There was times where Tab was telling me, hey, get to the top lane, get to the top lane. He saw something that I couldn’t see in the front that killed the bottom lane’s momentum, and it propelled us past four or five, and then we jumped back to the bottom, things like that.
Definitely a lot of strategy involved and calculated moves.
I want to take it a little further, and I’m curious, you mentioned in your Xfinity championship days, really good car, not have to be as aggressive, take what the car gives you, all that stuff. From that standpoint, do you think the last couple of years where it seems like every year we get to the end of the season and you’re right there on the bubble points-wise or maybe even needing to win, do you feel like from day one you’re up against it and you have to race more aggressive, and to that point, now that you start off this season with a win presumably in the playoffs that now that edge is completely gone?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, starting the season off with a win definitely changes, I feel like, your mindset going forward. But as we saw last year, you’re going to have to gain some points. You’re going to have to stay ahead of eventual winners in the point standings to make the playoffs.
I think this season, you could see more winners than we had last year. That being said, we’ve got to be on our A game from here on out.
Like I said, I think everything that we’ve learned this off-season, I’ve got a lot of confidence in the cars that my guys are going to be able to give me so that I don’t have to over-drive them to get good finishes.
There will be days that we’ll finish 17th, 18th, but that might be our goal for that given weekend. We can’t finish above 25th. That kills you in the points.
We’re wanting to be consistent. Obviously we wanted to get a win. We’ve done that. But we do feel like there’s other racetracks that we’re capable of winning at based off of our performance at some last year and the things that we’ve learned this off-season.
Yeah, I think mindset-wise, it definitely calms the nerves a little bit to go out and really focus on what we’re doing only.
I know Mike woke up this morning with that conviction that you guys could do this, and there was always that conviction that you guys could do this, but I feel like the cars you had with them in 2020 and 2021 were really, really good cars. I don’t think this car was quite as good as those cars, and I’m curious, is the irony kind of not lost on you that you guys had arguably the best car here those two years and you come back this year, qualify near the back of the field, and this is the year you guys get it done?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Yeah, it’s crazy. Our car in 2020 was amazingly fast. I think we shocked everybody with getting the pole and had really good cars those two years.
We came here last year, and we qualified I think 24th, so we qualified 10 spots better, but we were second off the pole. We qualified 34th this year, we were seven and a half tenths off the pole. So technically we were closer to the lead cars, it was just like everybody got faster and we kind of fell back in positions.
I told my guys after Wednesday, I said, we have a set kind of standard of, hey, here’s our qualifying for superspeedways. We’ve set the bar, now let’s try and make that better going forward.
But I said, guys, we’re closer to the lead pack cars than what we were last year, and we were leading this race with five or six to go. I said, we have a car capable of doing that.
Like I said, we made adjustments that gave up a little handling and ride quality for a little bit of speed, and I felt like in our Chevy draft on Friday night, I felt super confident in the car.
Again, maybe not the fastest, but I felt like I drafted well, it handled good enough for me, and I felt like that was always one of our benefits and kind of key things to have here at superspeedway races, is cars that handle good and being able to get pushed without getting too out of shape, and I felt like I had that.
THE MODERATOR: Ricky, congratulations on winning the Daytona 500, and we’ll see you next week at Fontana.