CHEVY NCS AT DAYTONA 500 MEDIA DAY: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Transcript

FEBRUARY 12, 2020

RICKY STENHOUSE JR., NO. 47 KROGER CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Daytona 500 Media Day Highlights:

Q. How much fun has this week been for you so far?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: It’s been really neat so far. As soon as I won the pole, we were like, hey, we’re going to fly out at 6:00 p.m. to go to New York and they were gracious enough to let me push that time back so I could go to the dirt track and watch my sprint car team run, and then we headed to New York. But getting there, getting up in the morning and going to FOX and doing all the shows and then all the interviews in between is just pretty cool, to see everybody talking about our race team and what we were able to accomplish on Sunday.

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You know, a lot of hard work went into that this off-season, a lot of Saturdays, long nights in the shop, long days in the wind tunnel, and to see it all kind of come together and pay off and get to see all the media that our team was able to get is pretty special. I got to enjoy it for a week, or we get to enjoy that for a week before the race on Sunday, so it is a big deal for our team.

Q. How late did they have to push the plane back?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Four hours. Yeah, we left at 10:00. The dirt race ended at about 10 after 9:00, so we actually left maybe 10 minutes early.

Q. You tweeted from the makeup seat it was like the guy had never seen a mullet before.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, the lady was doing my makeup and the guy was in the back, and she said, hey, do you want to do some hair, and he goes, I don’t know what to do with that. I was like, well, it’s a little frizzy; maybe put something in it. He was like, how do you normally wear it. I was like, I got up this morning and I fixed my hair; this is how I wear it. It was funny, we all laughed, and he was having fun with it.

Q. Where was that?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: That was at FOX when I was in the makeup room. Yeah, it was good.

Q. You posted a photo, an autographed picture —
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Oh, yeah, so our golf guys went down to Michael Jordan’s new course in Jupiter and played golf Monday and Tuesday, and they got Michael to sign a bottle of his tequila for me for getting the pole. So that was pretty cool. The guys surprised me with that late last night when I got back. I didn’t get to make the trip down there, so it was pretty cool to have that.

Q. Did you ask to play with Rickie Fowler?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: No, that was down there in Jupiter, so I wasn’t there. I have before. He’s cool.

Q. Before you started racing cars, what kind of weird jobs would you have over the years as a kid growing up?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I didn’t have any weird jobs. I just worked for my dad in his engine shop, so I guess I never really had to go get a real job because I was always working on race cars. I worked for a race team that I ended up driving for in the Silver Crown series. I worked at their shop to be able to race their car, and we got their first USAC win out in Manzanita in 2007. But yeah, just worked in the engine shop with dad, and I worked for that race team there.

Q. Anything that you did that you didn’t really enjoy doing?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, working at dad’s shop, the worst thing I ever did was he got a pretty big ladder and a pretty long broomstick, and I had to clean the cobwebs out of the ceiling of his shop. It was so dirty. It’s an engine shop. It’s just a race shop, and it was so dirty, I was black from head to toe, and my shoulders were burning. It took a long time to clean that. And I waxed the truck and trailer one time. That took forever.

Q. There should be more people around here. You’re the Daytona 500 pole winner. What’s going on?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I don’t know, sure. I’ve talked all week. They’ve probably got everything. Everything has been good. I finally got to relax yesterday, which was nice. I hung out on the beach with some buddies and chilled out, and now we’re here, and race tomorrow.

Q. Do you feel like people are like, oh, yeah, they won pole but are they really going to be a factor?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: We’re going to be a factor for sure. I feel like last time we won a pole at a speedway, we were able to win from the pole at Talladega, and I feel really confident about obviously the speed that’s in our race car and what my guys were able to accomplish all off-season and make a jump to have a chance at winning the pole and then doing it.

My car, Pattie feels like it’ll drive good. He’s confident that it’ll drive good in the Duels. We’ve been talking all week about the adjustments that we need to make, trying to figure out what we’re going to do — we need to run Thursday so that we have an idea of what we need to change for Friday, Saturday, going into Sunday, but we feel really confident, and I think I’m ready for Sunday.

Q. You’re going to race on Thursday?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I plan on racing unless Pattie tells me otherwise. But there’s points on the line. There’s things that I need to learn about the Camaro that I feel like I’ve ran so many speedway races not in a Camaro, and there’s definitely different characteristics that the car has just from the little drafting that I did in practice on Saturday.

So, I was talking to Pattie, I had a few concerns about the way our car was driving, and he’s got some ideas of adjustments to make going into Thursday night, the adjustments that you’re allowed to do to the race car after qualifying. He feels confident that he’ll get it driving the way I need to.

Q. We’ve seen in other sports players traded to other teams. Do you feel you have something to prove? Do you have a little extra —
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I’ve got a lot of motivation. I’ve got a lot of motivation. Brian Pattie has got a lot of motivation. Mike Kelley, they’ve been in the shop all hands-on deck with our race cars this off-season. Put a lot of effort into our 500 car, but we also put that same amount of effort into our Las Vegas car, our mile-and-a-half program. They went back to the shop. They were starting working Monday, Tuesday, in the wind tunnel and figuring out what we need in those race cars for the rest of the season. But I think the guys in the shop definitely proved that they know how to make cars so fast, and I was excited for Brian and Mike and everybody else that obviously worked on these race cars. To be able to come down and knock a Hendrick car off the pole after they’ve won it so often and then obviously to, like you said, we’ve got something to prove, and I think we’re going to.

Q. How does that extra motivation help you or what does it do for you behind the wheel?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Well, for me, I think it’s just kind of got my mindset back in the game. You know, you get kind of stuck in a rut for a while at the same place, doing the same things and getting the same results. You know, now having a fresh start, me as a driver, kind of opening my eyes a little bit more to maybe doing things a little bit different behind the wheel, and then being at a race team that is pretty open to doing whatever we need to do to make our cars fast, whether that be going to the wind tunnel, calling the shop and saying, hey, quit building race cars because we’ve got to change something, and you get done and you end up cutting a part of the race car off and redoing it.

You know, so I feel like the race team is open to different ideas, and that’s been a cool part of the off-season, hanging out in the shop as Ernie — the way he runs the shop is really, I think, kind of a special place, and we’ve got resources. For me, I think that it’s just a whole different mindset from top to bottom.

Q. Before the Daytona 500 pole, there were people that told me you seemed rejuvenated. As you look at you now, a little different look on your face, a little bit brighter. Do you feel rejuvenated?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I do. I feel like the culture at JTG Daugherty Racing is something that I have missed. It’s a family atmosphere. It’s whatever you need, we’ll help you get it accomplished. From top to bottom with Tad and Jodi and Ernie kind of being the main focal points at the shop, the way they run the race team, the way they care about the employees, and they’re just racers, and that’s been fun to be around this off-season. Going to their Christmas party, that was kind of the first big thing that I did with the team, and then Ryan and I bought the team lunch on Tuesday before we both headed down here on Wednesday. Just the atmosphere is different. Like you said, my mindset has been different this off-season just because I know that I’ve got a different opportunity, another opportunity if you want to say, and I feel really good about the people around me.

Q. Would it be an upset if you won the 500?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I don’t know about an upset. I feel like we’ve — Brian and I together have shown what we can do on speedways. I think it shows the work that the team put in and the resources that we have to come down here and be the fastest car, Daytona 500 pole qualifying on Sunday. I wouldn’t say it would be an upset. It would definitely be — I don’t know. I don’t know how you’d put it, but I feel confident. Maybe an eye-opener, but I am confident in what our ability is and our race car, especially here at Daytona.

Q. Ryan said that he could use a little help still learning how to draft, especially the way you do, that you’re so masterful at it. Is it kind of a win-lose proposition if you do spend time with him because he is still kind of young to the drafting game, and it could either help you or hurt you?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: No, I think it’ll be great. Obviously, Ryan and I are both in the first duel together. You know, and we haven’t sat down yet, but I plan on it tomorrow and just kind of go over, one, a little bit of a game plan, and then also the things that I learned in the race car on Thursday — I mean, on Saturday drafting the little bit I did. We talked all off-season in the shop about what he thought the race car did at the speedways, and then I was like, man, when I drove our cars at the speedways, I was able to do this, this and this, and he’s like, well, I wasn’t able to do that. I felt like our car needed a little bit of work to be able to be that comfortable to make moves like that, and so I’m just going to talk to him and see if we can’t get a really good game plan together to make sure that we work well together and that I have confidence if he’s in front of me or I’m in front of him to make sure that we know kind of what we’re going to do.

Q. You’ve won championships and races and things like that. Have you been at all surprised by the attention and the celebration of winning the pole?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, it’s definitely bigger than I thought. It’s awesome for myself. I’m the one that gets to go do all the interviews and kind of be in the spotlight, but I think obviously all the drivers here know that it just shows how hard everybody at the shop worked. This is all like their work, their doing, their effort. So, I’ve got to make sure that I always put the plug in for how much they worked and how much effort they put in. Like I told them, it’s cool to see, I’m new to the shop, I’m new to the organization, but to see them putting in extra hours for somebody they just met, even though I know it’s their job, but it’s cool to see their hard work pay off, and I think it’s just going to keep pushing momentum into the season, knowing that, hey, we worked all off-season obviously on the right things to make our car fast for Daytona, so they’re going to continue to put that effort in for all our other racetracks. But I was definitely surprised how big this was. It was great for Kroger and our whole team.

Q. Thoughts on Sheldon this year?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I was glad I was able to stick around Sunday night and watch. We ran 11th from 23rd on Friday. We finished eighth on Saturday. Kind of mediocre. We’ve still got to get better qualifying. We got two hard chargers over the course of the weekend and then Sunday night. We started 18th and ran up to fourth and felt like we had one of the best race cars. So, the guys are clicking well. We’ve got a new crew chief and a new crew guys over there.

Q. Who’s the new crew chief?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Kyle. We call him Ripper. He’s been in the sport a long time. Him and Sheldon worked together in the past when Sheldon was first getting going in sprint car racing, and so they kind of got their band back together and feel really confident about the chemistry that we have in our team right now.

Q. Do you realize that the pole you won on Sunday is only the third pole for JTG in its history? That’s —
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: That’s pretty special, and that’s really cool. To me it’s even more special knowing that the car makes up 99 percent of what a pole run here is at Daytona. The car is everything, and knowing that that shop produced that race car, like I’ve said this all season, Brian Pattie came in, I went into the shop and looked at the resources they have, and I think we were both surprised at the craftsmanship in their cars, how nice they are, and the resources that they have. Brian feels we got everything there that we need to succeed, and that’s pretty cool knowing that Brian has worked at a lot of different places, crew chiefed at all different organizations, and he feels confident with what we’ve got.

Q. You’ve had success on a lot of the big tracks. Does starting from the pole, does it make your strategy for the Daytona 500 any different?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: No, because you end up getting shuffled back at some point and then you basically just restart from the tail end at some point in the race. You know, the strategy is going to be as it always is, keep track position, stay up front. Even though it seems like wrecks happen at the front of the field now, you still feel a little bit safer and more in control, obviously, in the first couple lanes of a race. It’s either there or at the very back. You feel a little bit uncomfortable when you’re coming up through the field, but now the strategies will still be the same. You set yourself up. We work these speedway races different. You’re always looking for that last run, when you’re going to put that last set of tires on, and you play your race backwards from there.

Q. Away from the racetrack, maybe growing up or something like that, what were some of the wildest or maybe dumbest things that you did growing up that you survived, obviously?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I mean, I just rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers constantly outside of the racetrack.

Q. Did you ever ride a bull?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I did ride a bull once.

Q. How long?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Like four or five seconds. And back it down, it wasn’t — like you watch PBR bull riding on TV, it’s not — it wasn’t a bull that was going to go compete at the PBR level.

Q. Was it like a cow?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, pretty — it probably went to McDonald’s when I got done. It was old. I rode it to its death. No. No, it was fun. J.B. Mooney and Shane Proctor put me on one, and I’m a fan of bull riding and the PBR, and I had a lot more respect after I got done with that because I felt like my arm was pulled out of socket, I was bruised under my thighs, and I felt like I pulled my groin I was trying to hold on so tight, and again, this was not one that was like bucking way up in the air. That was fun, though.

Q. What’s your favorite track to race on?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I enjoy the superspeedways, Daytona, Talladega, but by far my favorite racetrack is Bristol.

Q. Why Bristol?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I just feel like as a race car driver at Bristol, you can do things with your car that I feel like on a lot of asphalt racetracks you can’t do, and you can drive it harder, you can use the brakes different, and you can kind of manipulate your car, and it seems like no matter what year that we’ve been at Bristol, no matter how our car has driven, we’ve always found a way to find ourselves in the top 10, top 5 competing for a win. It’s just been one of those racetracks that I’ve enjoyed ever since I went there the first time.

Q. Can you talk about the West Coast Swing, just leaving there and stacking those three races up?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I enjoy the West Coast Swing. I love Las Vegas. Fontana I feel like is a great underrated racetrack. Phoenix I’ve had success there and ran well, but as of late, we haven’t been that good at Phoenix. But I enjoy just being in the sun of California and Phoenix. Vegas can be a little windy and chilly at times, but you never know.

Q. Are you excited that NASCAR changed the package for Phoenix?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I am. I do think that being able to have a little bit less downforce, the corner speeds will be a little bit slower, the straightaway speeds will be a little bit faster, I feel like all that combination, having to get on the brake a little bit harder, a little bit longer, creates better racing, especially at the short tracks. I think they did a fantastic job of taking a package. We were pretty set, obviously, before we go into 2021, but I think that’s the commitment NASCAR has to continuing to make sure that we’re going to put the best product on the racetrack. Even though our rules were kind of set for our race cars, they made a change that collectively we all felt like was a move in the right direction.

Q. If they kept the intermediates for the low downforce, the spoiler, everything the same, will the racing be better than it was last year on the mile-and-a-half’s?
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I think we all learned what we needed in our race cars to run better and to run closer to the cars in front of you and to compete at a higher level, and I think all that kind of evolved over the course of the season, and now that we’re going into year two with kind of the same package, I feel like that the racing is going to continue to get better on those.

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