Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was speaking to a group of media people at a NASCAR function in Daytona, a few days after qualifying on pole for the 2020 Daytona 500.
“I definitely got things to prove, and prove people wrong,” pointed out the native on Olive Branch, Mississippi after motoring to the third Cop pole start of his career. “It’s kind of nice to feel wanted.”
After being unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing late last autumn, said to be a move precipitated by underperformance and crashes, Ricky Stenhouse found himself on the outside looking in for 2020 before picking up a phone call from JTG-Daugherty Racing.
It was then that Stenhouse began making the moves that would kick off his redemption tour for 2020, stop one coming with that pole at Daytona. For Stenhouse, champion of both the 2011 and 2010 Xfinity Series with Jack Roush, the performance put a spring in his step; Daytona immediately being followed by a remarkable third place on the lightning-quick 1.5-mile tri-oval at Las Vegas. Racing to a 20th and a 22nd at Fontana and Phoenix respectively, Stenhouse was looking to settle into new Cup season when the pandemic sent everyone out of the garages and into their living rooms.
“I actually just got done working out,” he says from his home. “Luckily, I’ve got my gym here on the property and I’ve got a lot of grass to cut and things to clean up. I’m plenty busy, but not the kind of busy that I’d rather be.
“It’s just kind of up in the air, and we don’t know exactly when that day is going to come, but I mean heck, the whole world is like that and we can’t feel bad for ourselves. Everybody is in the same boat. I’m just fortunate that I have a piece of property here that I can get out and about, and go through woods. I’ve been clearing trails, and cleaning and staying busy. The hardware stores are still open and I think a lot of people are going there and doing home renovation projects, so those kind of stores are busy, but other than that, man, obviously everything is shut down. You’ve got drive-throughs that you can go to, and traffic is way down compared to normal, that’s for sure.”
While iRacing and old Cup and Xfinity reruns have helped race fans keep the clock from moving backwards, Stenhouse has been a bit slow on tuning-in and tuning-out with the help of electricity.
“Well, I struggle with it,” he says. “I’m not the greatest at it, so for me it has been a little difficult to get the hang of it. I haven’t practiced a whole lot because, like I said, working out on the property. When I can get all of my projects done here, then maybe I’ll get on the simulator a little bit more. Or, if we have some more rainy days, I’ll get on it. It has been so nice; I’ve been wanting to be outside. I don’t know… Obviously, I’m not used to being home very long, and being home on the weekends and being here has been kind of crazy, but I think I’d much rather be at a racetrack.
Like many people chugging along during this enforced lockdown, Stenhouse has found himself looking back on the memories and good times that have illustrated his racing life and career.
“Yeah, it’s been cool to look back,” he said. “People have been posting old videos and I’ve seen some old Nationwide races that we won that bring back really good memories, and I’ve been rerunning those. Man, those are cool, and it’s definitely neat to reminisce about racing during this time.”
After a four-race run in Cup in 2020, NASCAR was forced to hit pause on the 2020 season, but Stenhouse is encouraged by what he saw from the beginning of the JGR-Daugherty chapter of his career.
“Yeah, we’re off to a good start,” said Stenhouse. “We definitely haven’t done everything perfect and we’ve had some bumps in the road, but all in all, I’ve felt like we are definitely on the right track. I think we know some things that will help us get better once we get back going. Also, I feel like once we get back going, we’re in really good shape as far as the cars that we have completed. As far as the workload that our shop is going to have to go through once we get back is going to be a lot more hectic than we are used to. I think being organized and having the shop all ready to go is going to be really important, as well.
“I’m definitely encouraged. I really enjoy the atmosphere at the shop, and Tad and Jody Daugherty, our team owners, and Ernie Cope, our competition director, will just randomly call and reach out to see how everything is going, and to make sure I’m doing alright, and it’s just really neat to have those people in your corner. They believe in me and they want me there, and I feel good about being there, and I feel good about the people that we have in my corner at the team. It’s been great all the way down to our partners, they’re all behind us 100 percent. We’re all looking forward to getting back on the track and continuing that growth with them.”
Stenhouse has also been impressed with the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
“I do like the Camaro,” says Stenhouse, who was previously a longtime Ford man. “It’s a little bit different than what I’m used to. The biggest thing was that on the speedway, I felt like it drove different than what I was used to, and I definitely had to change my driving style up a little bit at Daytona, but the car was fast. On the mile-and-a-half and the bigger tracks where we’ve ran, there is definitely some characteristics where, set-up wise, that I think we’re having to work around. There are little nuances, but all in all, it has been great. I felt Chevrolet did a great job remaking the Camaro for us, and I think from everything people said over the first few races, they feel like the better is for sure.
So if Stenhouse came across a crystal ball and was able to look into the future summer of 2020, just what he might see when it comes to motor racing?
“Man, I don’t know…” he sighs. “I think it’s a moving target. Whenever they tell us we’re going racing, I’ll be ready.”