CHARLOTTE, NC – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two restrictor plate races, the first of his career, and took a tumble in the Chili Bowl in the offseason. Those were just two of the topics the press corps heard at the NASCAR Media Tour in the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday.
With two wins, a Playoff berth and a lot of baggage off him for 2018, Stenhouse seems to be ready to take on the challenges of the new season with vigor and anticipation.
“I think there’s a lot of things that are looking good for us in 2018,” Stenhouse said. “I think, we ended the season really strong and I think my team has confidence in what we’re gonna be able to do. The cars that we’re building going into the Daytona 500 after winning two speedway races this past season, not looking for our first win is nice, not having that riding on your back. That seemed pretty tough to deal with for a long time and now I don’t have to answer those questions, but now it’s what other race tracks are we gonna win at?”
Confidence is plentiful around the Stenhouse camp. His two wins in 2017 are making the driver of the No.17 Ford look at other tracks and maybe taking the Roush Fenway organization back to the glory days they had earlier before Stenhouse came along.
“I definitely want to win at other race tracks, but going into the 500 I feel a lot more confident than I ever have. I always went into the 500 thinking, ‘Hey, lets’ get off to a good start. Let’s have a good points race.’ I never thought about winning the 500. I just thought that I was competing in it and if I won that was cool, but I didn’t really feel I had the confidence that we could.
“After last season, I feel like going in that is the only goal that we have when we go down there is to win and not just to get a good finish out of it. Until we’re done with Daytona, that’s our number one priority, but we do have a Vegas test coming up that I’m looking forward to.
“We’ve got a new car that we’re taking out there and we’ve got other cars to kind of judge ourselves off of. I know Kyle Larson is gonna be out there, so some of those cars that were fast on the mile-and-a-half race tracks last year will be out there testing and I’m anxious to kind of see how we stack up with our new car.”
Stenhouse talked about the strides Roush Fenway Racing has made since the start of last season and why he thinks that 2018 is going to be a good year for them. The cars are better.
“We worked on a lot of things last year. I think we worked on a lot of things that didn’t work as well,” Stenhouse said. “When I feel we got off a little bit last season it was we were working down a path that we thought there was gonna be some good things at the end of the tunnel. When we got there it just didn’t produce, whether it be the downforce or the grip in the race car we were looking for, so I feel like there was about a month or two that we fell behind of not gaining on it while other teams were continuing to gain. I felt like we fell behind at that point.
“I felt like we started the Playoffs further behind than we thought, but I thought we ended the season – Martinsville, Phoenix, Texas, Homestead – closer to where we started the year based off of speed. So, I’m looking forward to those things that we worked on. We worked on those things this offseason to hopefully continue that progress, but it’s not gonna be overnight. I think we have focused in on things that we need to be better on.”
During the offseason, Stenhouse and former girlfriend Danica Patrick parted ways. Much speculation has been voiced over how the two would race together in the Daytona 500. Patrick recently signed a contract to drive in the Great American Race in the No. 7 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet. Will Stenhouse race differently around his former girlfriend?
“I don’t think I’ll race any different around her,” Stenhouse said. “I try to respect everybody around me, especially at those speedway races. You don’t really want to put anybody in a bad spot because you put the whole field in a bad spot, but I think I’ll go out and race just like I’m racing everybody else and see how it plays out. Heck, when we first started racing together we got in crashes anyway, so it is what it is. I’ll just go out and compete as hard as I can and I plan on putting myself in a position to win the race.”