INSIGHT: The belief behind a long-awaited Daytona 500 victory

Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: The belief behind a long-awaited Daytona 500 victory

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: The belief behind a long-awaited Daytona 500 victory



That is a simple, powerful word. Believe is what 40 teams do when driving through the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway each February when beginning work for the year’s biggest race. On Sunday night that word became the theme of the winning press conference for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s team, JTG Daugherty Racing.

It started with team co-owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter believing they were going to win the Daytona 500. Jodi woke up at 3:30 in the morning, having tossed and turned, thinking through the day ahead. She was making coffee when Tad woke up.

“And he said, ‘We’re going to win today,’” said Jodi. “I said, ‘Do you really think so?’ He said, ‘I do. I feel it. I feel like we’re going to win today.’

“We prepare every week, and sometimes you know when you’ve got a better shot than others. But Tad really felt it.”

Before going about the day, the couple have a routine. It includes prayer and something else Jodi knows sounds hokey but is no less accurate.

“Before we went back out into the world and we did our Wonder Twin powers activate,” she said.

The belief continued in the No. 47 team garage stall. Mike Kelley, Stenhouse’s crew chief, ironically also woke up at 3:30 a.m. with a different feeling about the day.

“I kept telling myself, if we just keep working on our car and keep believing in ourselves, maybe something will work out,” said Kelley.

So convinced, Kelley took a page straight out of the Ted Lasso playbook by taking a piece of orange tape writing on it, “we believe.” The tape went onto a roll bar in the cockpit of Stenhouse’s car above his head. It is something Kelley used to do with Stenhouse when the duo worked together in the Xfinity Series.

“I just wrote him a note that only he would see, and it was on top of the roll bar in front of him,” said Kelley. “That’s been our team’s motto all off-season – we believe. We’re a small team. We’re not a super powerhouse team. We’re small.

“I think there are 40, 45 employees that work in our shop every day. But I have 45 people that believe in what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to get people to believe in Ricky Stenhouse again. We’re trying to get people to believe in myself and the vision that we have.”

When Kelley says Stenhouse needs to believe in himself, it’s not meant to imply his driver has a confidence problem. Far from it, in fact. Whether it’s a bad practice or a bad race, Stenhouse comes back believing he will win.

The timing of the caution gave Stenhouse a narrow victory over Joey Logano (Motorsport Images)

“He has the ability to shut off what happened (the last time out) before anyone,” said Kelley. “But he sees the things (written), and he hears the things (said). I would show him video and show him things and say, look, you didn’t cause that wreck. You were in it, and your name is just going to be attached to it.

“That’s what we’ve got to fix. We don’t want it that anytime you’re involved in something, somebody just says, well, Stenhouse was in it again. So many times that’s been the situation, but that’s not how it’s perceived. That’s what I wanted to change. I wanted him to believe that he was not the fault for a lot of things but take responsibility for those that he is.

“I wanted him to get back to where he was, where he believed in himself.”

Stenhouse prevailed in double overtime to win his first Daytona 500, which is also the first for JTG Daugherty Racing. It is the second Cup Series win for the organization in 684 starts.

In the first overtime, Stenhouse took the lead with a power move to the inside of Joey Logano down the backstretch. Stenhouse had initially pushed Logano into the lead before making a move himself. Not long after he did, the caution came out again.

The final restart saw Stenhouse, the leader, choose the outside lane with Joey Logano behind him. Kyle Larson joined him on the front row, leading the inside lane with Christopher Bell lined up as his pusher.

Stenhouse cleared the field in Turn 3 and led at the white flag. But Logano and Kyle Busch charged on the outside to bring the field side-by-side again. As Stenhouse and Logano duked it out at the front, a multi-car crash broke out behind them, ending the race under yellow. Stenhouse was declared the leader over Logano at the time of caution and, therefore, the race winner.

“When I say we need it, I mean, you need it,” Jodi Geschickter stressed. “You work hard, you need to finish things. For me that feels like validation. That feels like a finish. We needed that. Our guys needed that. Our sponsors needed that.

“Kroger people have been with us for 16 years. They needed that. They needed to see us in victory circle. They needed to be there with us. I am just thrilled to death that we were able to do that together.”

Under the race’s eighth and final caution, the video feeds at Daytona began playing a video package for the fans in attendance. Different drivers competing in Sunday’s race were what their Daytona 500 yearbook quote would be.

Stenhouse was included in the video and was one of the last drivers to appear on the screen. In the video, Stenhouse said, “we’re not here to prove anybody wrong. We’re here to prove everyone around us correct.”

Sunday in Daytona, everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing proved their beliefs correct.