In the autumn of 2019, JTG Daughterly announced that veteran driver Ricky Stenhouse would race for the team during the 2020 NASCAR Cup season.
Two years later, it announced that, once again, Stenhouse had signed on to compete with organization via a one year contract for the 2022 Cup season. And so far, so good.
He finished 13th at the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and backed that up with a crash-affected 28th at the Daytona 500. And while 28th may not come off as a result that would light Daytona International Speedway on fire, Stenhouse, if not for a shove from Brad Keselowski with five laps left in the “Great American Race,” may well have won the thing.
At the recent Cup race staged at Auto Club Speedway in impossibly bright Southern California, Stenhouse was relaxing in the No. 47 team hauler on Saturday evening when RACER.com dropped in.
Q: Ricky, so far we’ve run into you at the Coliseum, Daytona, and Auto Club Speedway here in Fontana, California. A lot of newness present in the NASCAR community these days, huh?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: It feels new. I mean it feels refreshed, I guess you could call it that. Everybody is energized and ready to go. There are new cars, we’re back here at Fontana where we haven’t been in a long time – the fans are all pumped up that we’re here.
Daytona was amazing. It was incredible with the amount of people that were there, it was incredible how excited people were about the new season getting going. The fans were awesome. I thought the racing was great.
The Coliseum was kind of the same way. A lot of new fans obviously showed up there for us, I felt like we put on a pretty good show and gave them a little taste of what we do and I thought that we kicked the season off on a strong foot.
It’s great to get these fans back out to the tracks. I was just talking to one of the gate guards by the bus lot and they were pumped to be back and to be able to work the event. Everybody around our industry right now feels like all of this feels almost new.
We’ve got a new car. The cars are a handful as you’ve seen throughout practice and qualifying at these races, they’re tough to drive and that’s what us drivers asked for. We wanted this and I think it’s going to be great. The new car is on edge and tough to drive, and I think that when you hit it right, your car is going to be fast and you’ll be able to go up and contend for wins.
Q: I have to ask you about the Daytona 500. You were right there at the very front of the field with only five laps left in the race. Then Brad Keselowski turned you. You very well could have won that race, huh?
RS: (Laughter) Yeah, I felt SO good all week. I mean from the time we got down there, I just kind of felt different, just comfortable. We had some really good tests at Daytona with this new car and I felt good about the preparation that my guys put in. The only real mishap we had all week was qualifying. We didn’t qualify well, but in the Duels, we were really good.
I felt like we were the best Chevy in the field on Sunday. Man, it’s just tough to do when you’re out there by yourself as far as a manufacturer goes. Kyle Larson and I were working really, really well together. I lost him and then we were right there with five to go and then obviously got turned around by the number six car of Brad Keselowski. It was going to be tough to win, but I mean I was going to give it everything I had.
Q: Did you think you had a shot at winning it?
RS: We were in the right position. When you get down to the Daytona 500 and you put yourself in the lead… I mean, that’s all you can do. Obviously, it doesn’t always work out, but we put ourselves in the right position.
We have to look at all of the things we did good and kind of focus on those. There are obviously a few things that we can clean up. Pit road wasn’t real smooth for us last week, so those are things that I will clean up. All in all, I’m really happy with our performance at Daytona.
Q: This new Next Gen car, the Coliseum race, the Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta and the Circuit of the Americas races are coming up fast. Quite an eclectic mix of circuits and opportunities. Your racing background and the fact that you still compete in a host of remarkably different racing disciplines has to be a plus in this new era.
RS: Yeah, I enjoy running all different kinds of cars and I think that is what has me pumped up about this new car. It’s just different. If you start comparing last year’s car to this year’s car, I think you get caught up in too much stuff. You have to know, “Hey, this is the car we’re going to run and we’re going to go out and battle with it and this is the new normal.”
This new tough car is tough to drive. Some of those nuances that you had with the other car aren’t the same with this car. I think that dirt racing background helps. Every lap can be a little bit different and that’s the way this new car is.
Q: Are you still figuring the Next Gen car?
RS: Yeah, and I think that we are all just going to continue that at every race track. We obviously ran the Clash, which is unlike any track that we go to. We were at Daytona and that was pretty straight forward.
Even with this new car, it was still similar to our old car. Then we come to Fontana or go to Las Vegas and it is nothing like our other car. Then we’ll go to Phoenix and other tracks that are going to be different. You’re going to have to adapt pretty quick and you’ve only got 15 minutes of practice to adapt to it and that will be important that you and your team do your homework before you get to the track.
Q: You came back to race with JTG Daugherty Racing again in 2022. It seems like a good fit for you and you are in step with one another, and have quite a bit of future potential together. What do you guys hope to achieve in 2022?
RS: Yeah, everybody wants to get in a championship team and car that can win championships year after year, but those teams started somewhere, right? I feel like Tad and Jodi and Gordon and Brad, the owners of this team, are right there.
Tad has been doing this a long time and he feels confident. He now feels like he’s got the best equipment he’s ever had relative to the field. He feels like I’m one of his best drivers he’s ever had and that Brian Pattie is one of the best crew chiefs that he’s ever had. We’ve got good people and we’re looking to try and take this new race car and go perform like we feel that we can.
These races coming up will be a step in showing what we’re capable of doing as a team. I think that’s why I’m rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to go. I feel like we’re going to have some really good runs and have a shot to win some races. That gets me pumped up.