Ricky Stenhouse Jr. offered a sly smile to those who gathered at his No.17 Ford after the first Can-Am Duel qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
“That was fun,” he offered.
Stenhouse might have been the only one to feel such a way. The Roush Fenway Racing driver inadvertently caused two accidents during the 60-lap race as he worked the draft looking to gain position. William Byron and David Gilliland were both sucked around by the air when Stenhouse dove inside the left rear of each car.
But while the accidents were unintentional, how Stenhouse raced was not.
“I felt like I could do anything I wanted, the car was driving good,” Stenhouse said. “It was fast down there working the lines by myself trying to get to the front. Everybody just wanted to ride around on the outside.
“I feel really good about our car come Sunday and what we learned. We can still make it a little bit better, and we’re going to go to work. Maybe in a little bit of drafting between now and Sunday, but really happy with both cars, the Clash car, and this car. Somehow we were able to work it back to fourth there; I’m not real sure how.”
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When asked if he was surprised both Byron and Gilliland spun, Stenhouse said no. Those cars “weren’t driving good” he reasoned, whereas his Ford was massaged throughout practice.
NASCAR’s elimination of the ride height rule (meaning cars do not have to meet a minimum height) to include the superspeedway races this year lets handling coming into play.
“We opted to get it driving good instead of trying to qualify on the front row, and I think that paid off so I could do kind of whatever I wanted,” Stenhouse said. “Maneuver as quick as wanted left and right, and that’s what I was doing out there. Just trying to work my way to the front, pull them back so I could get me a hole to fill in and kept kind of timing it a little bit wrong to slide up in front of them.”
Having won two restrictor-plate races last season – Talladega and Daytona (July) – Stenhouse has growing confidence going into the Daytona 500. And after how things played out Thursday night, he seems ready to tackle the racing conditions again in the season opener.
“Oh yeah, I expected it; had it happen to me,” Stenhouse said of the draft. “[Kyle] Larson did it to me in the Clash race and your car gets really loose. Kyle told me if I had done that to him in the Clash he would have probably spun out because his car was so loose and hard to drive.
“I’ve been preaching the whole time that this week, this weekend our car has been driving good, I feel like I can be aggressive and that was definitely, by far, our best finish in the Duel race and I think it’s because I could be aggressive because I felt like if we had to go our backup car I felt really good with the car we ran in the Clash to bring for Sunday.”