“It’s our Superbowl, so hopefully we can stay out of trouble and contend for the win,” said Ricky Stenhouse ahead of the Daytona 500. “I feel like we’ve got a really good shot.” Enough said. Now an eight-year veteran with 220 Cup starts to his name, Stenhouse will start the race from fifth. Can he do it?
How has your week at Daytona gone up to this point?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: “Well, so far I was a little unknown coming into this weekend, with switching to the Mustang from our Fusion that we’d been running at the plate races. Then the rules package changed for the 500, so all the other manufacturers have their notebooks that they can go back to, but we don’t really have one for the Mustang so we didn’t qualify as good as we wanted, but our car in the Duel race was pretty good.”
With the revised aero and horsepower regulations, has the car been a lot different here at Daytona, and in particular, in the draft? Kurt Busch mentioned that once you’re locked into the draft, it’s almost impossible to make any sort of big move or big run up there in the high line.
“Yeah, in the Duels and in the Clash you were definitely locked into the top. I think once all the cars get out there on Sunday, I think you can get six or seven cars on the bottom line, and then you can work the bottom and do some racing. However, I think everyone was pretty content with riding around and making sure they don’t tear up their cars before Sunday. I think Sunday’s race will be a lot different. Yeah, we will get single-file at times, but people end up getting tired of being single-file, so we’ll go back racing! It is tough to pass, especially when we’re running single-file.”
With the new Mustang and through the technical push via Roush Fenway Racing is putting forth for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, can you realistically win here?
“Yeah, we can win here, for sure. You know, we circle five or six races that we feel, ‘Hey, we’ve got a really good shot at winning these races.’ And then with the rules package this year, you’re not real sure what to expect at all the racetracks. All the speedway races, we circle; both Bristol races, we circle. We circle those races as, ‘Hey, here are our best opportunities to win.’
“Yet, with the rules package changing, I think it is all going to bring into play some more racetracks that we can win at, and give us some better opportunities. In 2017, we obviously won at the two speedways, and then last year we had some good runs and had opportunities for wins at Bristol and at some of the speedways and got some top fives out of it, but we weren’t able to seal those wins like we did in ’17. Statistically, we actually had probably close to about the same years that we had in ’17 and ’18. We just didn’t have those wins to push us through.”
What went through your mind during the off-season? Did you evaluate yourself and/or your goals?
“Our off-season this year, I was actually kind of filled up and was really busy running around. After that, I just kind of took off a little bit and just kind of forgot about the last couple years and being a little frustrated — especially last year with not getting a win and not making the playoffs. I just kind of took some time away and showed up down here and kind of feel rejuvenated and ready to go. So we have a lot of work to do, but like I said, with the rules package changing, I think we’ve got a really good opportunity to make up some ground.”
Are you cool with where you, the car and the team are at heading into the race?
“Yeah, I learned in the Duels the other night what our car is capable of and I think a lot of people saw that our car is strong enough to go out and get the job done.
Some of the other drivers have taken notice and will work with you during the 500?
“Yeah, we’ll see. It’s funny, you know? I feel like back in the day you used to have cars that kind of helped each other out, but now you’re really out there by yourself. If it doesn’t benefit somebody else, forget it. They’re not going to do something to help you. You’ve got to be aggressive, and the way we’ve learned to drive the cars, you can do some of the stuff on your own and work your way up through the field and slow people down and be aggressive.
“We’ve got a good starting spot — we’re starting in the top five. It’s our best start yet for the 500 — so we just have to try and keep our track position and we can’t have any penalties on pit road. I think that is probably the number one key in our strategy. We want no penalties because you can’t get laps down, you can’t lose the draft and you need to keep your track position all day.”
Is Daytona something you grew up with?
“No, not really. I grew up around dirt racing. I watched NASCAR, but never really said, ‘Hey, I want to run the Daytona 500.’ I never really thought about it. I watched my dad race dirt cars and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to race dirt cars like my dad.’ I didn’t really think of winning or running the Daytona 500 until about 2008, when I first signed with Roush Fenway Racing. After we won in 2017, I just have a lot more confidence coming into Daytona and getting the job done as a team. I feel like with what we’ve done here in the past and how we’ve been on the speedway and how good our Fords are, I feel like we’ve got a really good shot.”