P1 on Daytona 500 qualifying day. Up, down, and all around in his 150 Duel. Ricky Stenhouse just might be the man to beat come Sunday in Daytona Beach, Florida when the green flag drops on the Great American Race. To many (especially the drivers in the other cars) Stenhouse and his No. 47 JTG-Daughery Racing Chevrolet have been a force on Big Bill France’s 31-degree high banks.
“It’s been a great start,” said Stenhouse. “We brought a really quick Kroger Camaro down here for Speed Weeks and qualified first, and fought really good in the Duels on Thursday. I felt racey. The car felt good and showed a showed a lot of speed, and showed we could work the draft like we wanted to. I’m just super-proud of everybody at JTG-Daugherty Racing and all the work they put in during this off-season.”
Throughout the last fortnight, Stenhouse, new to the JTG-Daugherty Racing outfit after being cut loose by Jack Roush and company during the off season, has made it pretty clear that he’s in a winning state of mind.
“I mean I didn’t really like we had to race in the Duel last night, but I felt like we needed to learn, and we felt like we had things we had to check off our list before going into Sunday’s Daytona 500. We worked hard at that. I worked at putting our car in different places [on Thursday night] trying to figure out what we needed to work on Saturday to get dialed in for a long 500 miles on Sunday. I think we’ve got a good baseline and good information for what we need to do. We feel really good about it.”
There’s no disguising that Stenhouse has a strong car leading into Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“Yeah, it definitely is a fast car,” laughed Stenhouse. “Any time you qualify that fast, you’re always kind of curious if the car is going to drive good during the race and if it is going to be ale to do the things it needs to do to stay up front, and it definitely did. I was surprised about that, and I think other people were too. It was also a good opportunity for us to show the other competitors and sort of say, ‘Yeah, it’s fast, but it also drives good enough to make the moves that I need to make.’
“The cars are getting tougher and the track is getting a little slicker and bump drafting is getting more aggressive In some areas, side drafting can really make you get loose or change the way your car handles, so come Sunday it’s going to be a handful. You know, we didn’t pit at all in our qualifying race, so we had 60 laps on our tires and the car definitely didn’t drive great at the end, but I felt comfortable and that’s good news come Sunday in trying to keep track position. You don’t plan on taking on too many tires throughout the race, so all in all, I felt really good.
“But you know, the more laps you run, the less grip the tires have in them. You know, a lot of people in that Duel race stopped to put tires on and they had much fresher tires. That’s what I felt comfortable about. I mean, they had newer tires and I didn’t, and I was still able to maneuver my car and do what I needed to do. Sunday will be a little bit different. Obviously, we raced at night in our Duels, and in our qualifying races and on Sunday the sun will be out and it’ll be a little bit warmer, and the track will have a little bit less grip.”
So can you win the thing come Sunday night?
“Oh, we definitely can win it,” Stenhouse insisted. “I think we’ve got a really good shot, but it’s a long 500 miles and stages and you don’t ever just get to stay out front the whole time. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of strategy, so we’ll keep that in mind and try to keep it clean.”