Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Media Day (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.)

RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang — DO YOU FEEL THE NEED FOR REDEMPTION HERE AFTER WHAT HAPPENED IN THE JULY RACE? “From July redemption? The only issue I had with July is we didn’t win. I could care less what the perception of everybody else is. I’m gonna go out and run our race the way we normally run. We followed our next speedway up at Talladega with a top-five finish and battling for the win there, so I like our process, I like the aggressiveness that we have. I love the Fords that Roush brings and my spotter, Mike Hillman Jr., is really good, so we’ll continue to work hard together and I feel like we’ve got a good opportunity. We’ve drafted a little bit, not a lot, so I’m kind of interested to see once we get in the Duels how our Mustangs will be compared to our Fusions that we had, but, all in all, the signs point to show that they’re pretty good.”

YOU’RE ONE OF THE BEST PLATE RACERS AND YOU TOOK SOME FLACK LAST YEAR, SO DOES THAT CONCERN YOU? “No, that doesn’t concern me. I think, for me, I look back at Daytona and feel like I for sure caused one of the wrecks just running into the 18, cutting it too close, and being too aggressive at that time. The other one, it was just a traffic jam and all backed up and then created a crash, but it wasn’t aggressiveness that caused that, so that being said, I think our style is going to stay the same.”

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO PUT JACK BACK IN VICTORY LANE AT DAYTONA? “It would be huge. To see him as excited as he was in 2017 when we won both races at Talladega and Daytona, anytime you can add another Daytona 500 to the owner’s cabinet would mean a lot. We’re going on 11 years with Jack now so it would be cool to do that for him.”

WITH NO XFINITY PROGRAM AT ROUSH HAVE YOU SEEN THE ORGANIZATION STEP UP THEIR GAME TO TURN THE SHIP AROUND? “This off-season we kind of last-minute decided what direction we wanted to go with some of our parts and pieces and chassis and things like that and it’s been nice to see them be able to kind of wait until the last minute, but still get the job done of what we need in the race cars and get them built before Atlanta — things like that. I’m hoping that it seems like, for us, we can generally start the season kind of where we want to, but we never really build on that and then we kind of fall into a lull through the middle of the season and by the time we get to the end of the season we all of a sudden put a lot of pressure on ourselves and work really hard and get our speed back to where we started the year, so we really just have to continue a good progress throughout the whole season. I think that’s what we’re looking to do and I think having only two Cup cars will allow us to do that for sure.”

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HOW HAVE YOU AND RYAN GOTTEN ALONG SO FAR? “I enjoy Ryan. Matt, I felt like, did a really good job of pointing out a lot of the weaknesses. Matt and I got along, but Ryan is in this thing for the long haul. He’s really looking forward to kind of helping us continue to turn this ship around, so he’s got a lot of knowledge and he’s smart, but then we also just have a really good relationship off the race track. Heck, we went out to the dirt races quite a few nights this week and just went to dinner and hung out and I think it’s gonna be a good dynamic between us.”

HOW DO YOU BUILD MOMENTUM AND KEEP THE TEAM MOTIVATED? “It’s really just pushing the engineers and our design engineers and everybody that is coming up with the next new thing on our race cars to be faster. I feel like the team has worked really hard all season, but it’s just making sure that we’re continuing to develop. I think somebody like Ryan will definitely help with that as well.”

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THE MOVEMENT OF CARS IS LIKE IN THE PACK, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE IN THE FRONT? DID YOU SEE ANY OF THAT IN THE CLASH? “The Clash was tough. You’d run 10 laps or so and then the caution would come out, but, for me, the July race just being up front there I just cut it too close to Kyle, and then the second one is just when you have cars trying to stay in the front and throwing big blocks on people you can’t check up quick enough. The car that sees the block coming can generally check up and then it’s just kind of a logjam after that, so you definitely have to be on your toes and we were a little late when Byron blocked Keselowski there in July, but that’s just the way this speedway racing is going, so you just have to try and anticipate that stuff a little bit more, but the Clash, I don’t know, I think you cut it close to get the run on cars to slow them down and the closer you get to the left-rear quarter panel the slower you make them and the easier it is to complete the pass. When you’re running around in a line around the top of the race track that was Jimmie’s only chance. If he was gonna go for it, he had to clear him to get back to the lead. If he gets stuck on the bottom he goes back to 20th or whatever, so you’ve got to be aggressive. You obviously don’t want to run into people, but it tends to happen.”

DO YOU JUST EXPECT SOMETHING TO HAPPEN IN THE LAST LAP OR TWO OF THESE PLATE RACES, WHERE SOMEBODY IN THE TOP-FIVE IS GOING TO WRECK AND TAKE OUT EVERYBODY? “Probably. I think the biggest thing is the track position and I think all of us drivers have learned so much. I feel like when Brad, Joey, those guys are some of the best at keeping their cars at the front all race long and once you get back in the back you really can’t make moves like that because there’s just nowhere to go. When you get to the front, you’re doing everything you can to keep your track position. That’s all we talk about when we come down to Daytona. What pit strategy are we gonna do to keep our track position? To get on and off pit road as quick as you can? You can’t have any penalties and you have to stay at the front the whole race. It used to be that handling would kind of go away on cars and they’d slide around and I think speedway racing is just totally different now from aggressiveness to keeping your track position — throwing big blocks. I threw a big block on Blaney here in the 500 last year and no different than William did to Brad and Blaney drilled me in the rear bumper and we got sideways and I saved it, but then people wrecked behind me. That was coming to a stage end, so you’re trying to get points and it’s frustrating when you’re in the middle of the pack and you can’t really go anywhere, but when you’re at the front of the pack it’s kind of fun actually.”

WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE DO YOU SEE THAT KIND OF RACING GOING TO THE MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS? “I don’t really see it going to the mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks, maybe some of the two-mile tracks. Watching some of the XFINITY cars at Michigan I thought that they could put some blocks on people and kind of caused some issues, but you go to like Fontana where the race track is old and worn out and I don’t think you’ll really see that as much. You might be able to see it at some of the smoother mile-and-a-halves, but I think it’s pretty unique to the superspeedways.”

DO YOU FEEL THE FRONTRUNNERS HAVE TO BE AS AGGRESSIVE AS JIMMIE WAS ON SUNDAY? “Yeah, I think so. I think plate racing is all about aggressiveness now and making the right moves and your spotter giving you that information of when to move down, which lane is coming. I feel like that communication between you and your spotter is getting more and more important. I feel like the races that w won in 2017 if it wasn’t for our spotter, there was no way I would have made some of the correct moves to get to the front or stay in the front, so it’s just part of it. It’s fun, but it’s also I don’t want to say dangerous, but you’re living on the edge as far as running into people, cutting it too close, so it’s just part of it.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF JIMMIE’S MOVE? “I think he cut it close to get to the lead and I understand that, but also understand that when you do cut it that close to cars it does kind of bring you together. I don’t think the 21 moved very much, but the air off the cars definitely can get you moving a little bit a direction that you don’t want to, but he probably also didn’t think that the 48 would cut it that close. I wasn’t really listening to the broadcast, so I wasn’t sure how close the rain was and obviously it was fairly close, so you’re trying to get to the lead and if Jimmie doesn’t get to the lead there, then he ends up about 20th. You’ve got to cut it close.”

JIMMIE SAID HE WAS WATCHING THE SKY AND SAW AN AIRPLANE, BUT COULD ONLY SEE THE LIGHTS. “Oh yeah, we see a lot out there.” ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THAT? “No, not at all.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK CHRISTOPHER BELL WILL DO WHEN HE GETS TO CUP? WHAT WILL HE BRING TO THE COMPETITION AND TO FANS? “It’ll be good. I think he’s in a good place. Their cars are fast and I think he’ll continue that transition of how he runs in XFINITY over to the Cup side because I think their Cup cars are just as good as their XFINITY cars, so it should be fun.”

WHAT WILL RACING BE LIKE IN ATLANTA NEXT WEEK? “I’m not real sure. I think Atlanta actually will be a race that I think all of us are looking forward to. Harvick wins so much there on the bottom, but taking some horsepower away and adding some downforce I think it will open the track up to be able to use a little bit more of the lanes — top, bottom, middle — so I’m hoping the racing will be better. I feel like the racing is always pretty good at Atlanta, but I do think it might be a little bit better than what it normally is.”

DO YOU THINK THE NASCAR SEASON IS TOO LONG? “The season length doesn’t bother me, but if it’s gonna be this long I’d like to race a lot more. Coming from sprint car racing and things like that our season is about the same length, but we race 90 times a year versus 38, so, for me, if we close up the season, then I’ll go dirt race more, but I just race when they tell me to.”

FORTY YEARS AGO THERE WAS A FIGHT HERE. HOW AWARE ARE YOU OF THAT MOMENT? “It’s cool. If you need to throw down, throw down.”

DOES THIS PACKAGE GUYS WHO HAVE TRUCK EXPERIENCE OR DRAFTING EXPERIENCE? “I don’t know. My gut kind of tells me the Trucks. From what I saw at Michigan and Indy, but I’ve never driven a Truck, so it kind of makes me nervous a little bit. We ran somewhat of a package at Charlotte, so that’s kind of my only idea of the package that we have now. I didn’t test at Vegas, so, honestly, I feel like it’s more like a Truck package, trying to make sure you build the right gaps between you and the car in front of you, so that you can get through the corner as quick as you can and try and time those passes towards the end of the straightaway. I feel like they talk about superspeedways and things being like a chess match, I feel like our mile-and-a-half stuff is gonna be a major chess match, trying to make sure you time your moves correctly. If you don’t time them, especially at a place like Michigan, Kansas, you can just lose so much momentum going down the straightaways and by the time you get back in line you never know where you’ll fall in, so it’ll be interesting to see. I’m hoping we can run a little bit more side-by-side than maybe some of the XFINITY package that we saw last year, but we’ll just have to see, but I think Truck.”

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