Brad Daugherty was sitting by himself in a dark room in his Orlando home Sunday night when the team he co-owns, JTG Daugherty Racing, won the Daytona 500.
Daugherty, still recovering from eye surgery that took place about 10 days before the race, was at the track that morning. He visited with his driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and his fellow owners, Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Gordon Smith. But the Florida sunshine started bothering Daugherty, leaving him unable to see well.
“It was just a good start (to the day),” Daugherty said. “We were excited. I went down and talked to some of the guys and made sure everybody had what they needed, and then I left right before the race started. I couldn’t see real well, my eye is almost like it’s hyper-dilated. So instead of bumping into everybody and knocking everybody down all day, I just went home.”
It was a normal Daytona 500 to Daugherty, who embraced the pre-race pomp and circumstance. Daugherty then watched Stenhouse be patient all day instead of being the hard charger he usually is at the superspeedway races.
As the race wound down, Daugherty had flashbacks to a year ago when Stenhouse was in contention late but wound up being punted aside. On the first overtime restart, Stenhouse made his move by cutting underneath Joey Logano on the backstretch to take the lead.
“I’m watching all of this in slow motion,” Daugherty said. “I’m like, we’re going to win this race. Then you see it, the caution flags come out, and the race is over, and we’re leading, and we just won the Daytona 500. It’s funny because I said it to myself, and then I said it out loud (that) ‘we just won the Daytona 500.’ Then I realized I was by myself, so I’m like, this really happened. I’m either nuts or this happened.”
In his euphoric state, Daugherty thought about trying to get back to the racetrack, but common sense won out. Daugherty knew he was practically blind and would probably wreck on the way there, and getting a helicopter didn’t seem likely. Not wanting to endanger himself or others, Daugherty stayed put.
“And then my phone started,” he said. “Steve Phelps from NASCAR called me. People started calling. The team started calling. I just could not believe it. We just won the Daytona 500.”
Stenhouse won the race in double overtime. The victory was the first in the famed event for JTG Daugherty Racing as Daugherty became the first black primary team owner to win the race.
Daugherty called the victory a “monumental accomplishment” for all involved. Something that for Daugherty on a personal level was “amazing” to be a part of.
Tad and Jodi Geschickter said Sunday night the victory was validation for the race team and badly needed. For a small group, it was a payoff for their hard work and their belief in what they are trying to accomplish at NASCAR’s top level.
“There is some validation in it,” Daugherty agreed. “For me and for Tad and Jodi and Gordon Smith, our other partner, we sit and talk a lot, and I’m always saying, we have to win the day. I say that all the time. What I mean by that is if we, as a small race team, go out and we’re fighting our guts out, and we finish 15th, that’s a great day, and you have to appreciate that.”
On the flip side, big teams with a lot more resources than what JTG Daugherty has will be down about a day outside the top 10. Or some will label teams as not very good if they finish outside the top 10.
“I don’t adhere to that,” Daugherty said. “The crazy part about it is – and this is where I’m so screwed up, I think – every time we leave that race shop over there on Caldwell Rd, I think we’ve got a chance. And I know that’s crazy, and I’ve been saying that for 30 years. I think we’ve got a chance.
“So, it is validation because what it shows is that sometimes it takes a long, long time to get the reward for your efforts. There are a lot of blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights, early mornings. We always try to deal with our team as more of a family, so there are always things that are a little bit more important sometimes than the race car that we tend to address with people we consider family.
“And you just knock along and you kind of get pushed to the side. You get pushed down.”
Through his work with NBC Sports, Daugherty understands people talk and focus on the teams up front. It’s deserved. But he says NASCAR is interesting in that regard, with it being weighted heavily at the top with the massive teams and the number of resources and funding they have.
“They all also kind of take advantage of the sport, so you look at the top 15 drivers and teams, they’re from multi-car teams that are the biggest teams in our sport,” Daugherty said. “For us, that little single-car team, that sticks in our craw, and we go after those guys every week. We have to take those small victories, and a day like Sunday, that narrative goes away, and on Monday, you’re looked at totally differently.
“It’s a good feeling. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It cleanses a little the bitterness of defeat that we got though getting our teeth kicked in a lot. And it validates you as a company, as as team, as an organization, as a driver. It just validates you, and you get to stick your chest out and walk with your head a little higher.”
Stenhouse has been on a media tour since his victory that includes trips to Chicago and New York, as well as plenty of satellite interviews. Daugherty is giving his driver one more day to float on the cloud before it gets put away.
“It’s there forever,” Daugherty said. “Come Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to regroup, recalibrate. We can’t just sink into this and sink into the abyss of being a Daytona 500 champion. That will be there forever. We got to be at Auto Club this weekend and try to figure out a way to win that race if we can. Or win the day, as I always say.”
JTG Daugherty has fielded a car in the Cup Series since 2009. Daytona was just their second win at the Cup Series level, and their first since 2014. Going forward, Daugherty hopes the victory will create unique opportunities for the team.
“But most importantly, we’re able to feed and take care of and help 65, 70 families in our little race shop community,’ said Daugherty. “This (victory) just enhances that, and that makes us happier than anything.”