This time last year, Ricky Stenhouse climbed into the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, motored out onto Daytona International Speedway and blistered the 31-degree asphalt highbanks with a flying lap that stopped the clocks at 194.582 mph.
Good enough for the pole for the Daytona 500, it was the type of instant early-season momentum that would put a huge smile on any stock car racer’s face. Twelve months later, Stenhouse has his sights once again fixed on Sunshine State, both to prepare for the 2021 Daytona 500, and also walk the pits of Volusia Speedway Park in the role of owner and operator of the No. 17 Stenhouse Jr. Marshall Racing Sprint Car of Sheldon Haudenschild. .
Q: Between racing in the 2021 Chili Bowl with Clauson-Marshall Racing and keeping your eyes fixed upon the Stenhouse Jr. Marshall Racing team in the World of Outlaws Series, you’ve been a man on the move, eh?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR: Oh yeah. We’re staying busy. That’s one thing that I enjoy doing, obviously, in our off-season of NASCAR. Being able to go to the Chili Bowl and work with my team guys and to make sure we’re prepared and ready to go on the World of Outlaws team has been great and kept me busy. The boys got all of our NOS Energy Drink No. 17 cars loaded up and they headed south.
Q: You’ve got your 2021 NASCAR Cup Series and all of that immediately before you, but here you are in the days leading into Daytona Speedweeks, up to your eyes in Sprint Car racing…
RS: Yeah, that’s what we try to be. Obviously, I’d like to get to race it all more myself and not just have a team, but it’s definitely cool to still give back to the sport that has given me so much. It’s a fun to do it. To have a team that believes in all the same things that you do and goes out and performs as well as they did last year has been fantastic. We finished fourth in points, which was a big jump up from where we were the previous years. We won more races and contended for more wins and everything is looking good to head down that same path this year.
Q: Do you get as big a rush at being a team owner at, say, the World of Outlaws events as you do being in the race car on a Sunday afternoon at Talladega?
RS: I do. Winning is winning and racing is racing. I get excited watching them even when I‘m at home when I’m sitting here on my computer. It’s important to me. Like you said, when you’re there and you get to win, it’s exciting.
Q: Daytona was good to you this time last year when you won the pole for the Daytona 500. What do you think about rolling in there this time around?
RS: It was good to me, you know? For the most part it was. Obviously, we qualified on the pole and that was huge for us. I think for me, this year is going to be about doing the same thing. I think our guys are still going to have me a fast race car and hopefully we can qualify on the pole like we did last year. I look back at that race, and we’ve just got to limit some of the mistakes that we had throughout the Daytona 500 that cost us a shot at ultimately winning. That’s the most important thing is showing up down there and bringing the trophy home. I think we’re prepared to do that. I was just at the shop the last couple of days and everybody is confident that we can do down and do it.
Q: Are you going to have a Hendrick engine in your Camaro again come Daytona 500 qualifying next Wednesday?
RS: Oh yeah! We’ve got the car dialed in. The engine should be good. The guys have been massaging on everything and hopefully we’ll have a bullet when we get down there for qualifying and get another pole. The superspeedways have definitely been a highlight. I wish it wasn’t the only tracks that we go to and feel like, “Hey, we’re the ones to beat here…” but I think we are getting better on all the other racetracks. We’re learning to make our cars better on those tracks, as well. It never hurts showing up to the first race of the year knowing that you’re going to have a fast car and a really good shot at taking home our biggest race.
Q: The 2021 NASCAR Cup schedule is a mixed bag. Dirt ovals, seven road course races, even COTA. Interesting stuff, huh?
RS: It is interesting. With COVID and everything last year, our schedule was kind of all jacked-up. I think the NASCAR schedule has been in need of an overhaul on the scheduling. You know, we have talked about it for a long time. I think they are finally in control of all their race tracks and SMI is control of all of theirs, and we can really maneuver the schedule and make it good for the fans and good for the TV partners. It’s been exciting, kind of waiting for those schedules to come out to see what they’re going to look like. Like you said, the new race tracks that we’re going to for the first time in the Cup series – the Bristol dirt race, Nashville, Austin, Road America – will be great for both us and the fans. There are a lot of good things going on in our sport right now and into 2021.
Q: What will make you happy come the end of 2021?
RS: I think for me it is making the playoffs and getting this team a win. I really feel we are capable of both of those things. I looked at what we did last year and it was kind of a disaster. For probably 10 races last year, I feel like we just threw it out the window and I think if we get those back and do what we know how to do, I think we can definitely accomplish all that. I think that we are ready to show everybody we’re capable of dong that, as well.