Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in tomorrow night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after qualifying ninth. Stenhouse, who will be subbing for Trevor Bayne in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion of Wood Brothers Racing, spoke about making one of the marquee races on the schedule.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MAKING YOUR FIRST CUP START IN THE LONGEST RACE OF THE YEAR? “It is the longest Nationwide race and longest Cup race of the year, which is gonna be tough. I’ve been going to bed early all week and making sure I’ve eaten well and drinking a lot of water. Our trainer at the shop, Les, he’s done a great job making me work out every week and hopefully it’ll pay off. If not, I’m sure he’ll be working me out a little bit harder.

I knew I had a chance to run this car ...

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

“THIS RICKY VS. TREVOR COMPETITION HITS ANOTHER MILESTONE THIS WEEKEND. TREVOR WON IN HIS SECOND SPRINT CUP START AND YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO BEAT THAT ON SUNDAY IN YOUR CUP DEBUT. WHAT DO YOU THINK? “That would be unreal, but I’m not gonna think about winning that race. I’m just gonna think about finishing.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT FILLING IN FOR TREVOR? “It’s definitely not the way I wanted to get my first Cup start, but you’ve got to take what God lays out for you. It’s just crazy how everything happens. Trevor is an awesome guy. I talked to him the other day and he’s like, ‘Man, are you pumped for your race?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t want to be driving your car.’ He’s like, ‘Look, there’s nothing you and me can do about it, go out, you’re gonna be great – get pumped up and get after it.’ He’s gonna be here supporting it, so that makes it a little bit easier.

“CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS YOU’VE HAD AND THE YEAR OVERALL? “It’s been crazy. I feel like our Nationwide program was where we could win, it was just a matter of putting everything together toward the end of last year. These are the same guys that went through the battles with us last year and came out a lot better off. I won Rookie of the Year with them. Blackwell Angus Beef stayed on board with our Nationwide program and we were able to get them to Victory Lane in Iowa, which is a great feat for all of us. Now we can focus on winning that championship. We wanted to get a race win and get it under our belt, and now we can focus on championship racing.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Photo by: Motorsport.com / ASP Inc.

“CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GETTING THAT WIN AND WHEN DID YOU GET THE CALL TO FILL IN FOR TREVOR? “Actually, I knew I had a chance to run this car (the 21) before Iowa. We had talked about different scenarios and whether Trevor was gonna come back or not, and one of them was us getting to run the Cup car in the Wood Brothers 21, which is just crazy with all the history behind that. To go out and win and then get your first Cup start is big.

“HOW NERVE-RACKING WERE YOU ON YOUR QUALIFYING LAP? “Man, I don’t ever really get nervous in anything, but I really got nervous there. But I’d rather go out last knowing nobody else could put us out, so we did the best we could there and had to take what they gave us.

“AT ANY TIME LAST YEAR DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE MAKING A CUP START? “Never. I didn’t know if I was gonna make many more Nationwide starts to be honest with you. We had a rough year last year and to bounce back from it and win Rookie of the Year last year was huge, and to start off the way we’ve started this year has been huge for us. We’d love nothing more to win that championship. We’re just glad right now that we’re in contention for it. We haven’t shot ourselves in the foot and put ourselves way behind. I felt like we’ve given some wins away and some good top-five solid runs throughout the year, but we finally put it together last week. Hopefully, we learned how to do that and can keep doing it throughout the rest of the year.” WAS THERE ANY FEELING KNOWING YOU MIGHT GET IN A CUP CAR THAT IT WOULD BE GOOD TO WIN A NATIONWIDE RACE BEFORE DOING THAT? “I almost wish I wouldn’t have won that race and then get in his car because it’s like, ‘Hey, Trevor. Ricky is gonna run your car. He won last weekend.’ But that’s not the way it is. This is Trevor’s seat no matter if I win this Coca-Cola 600 or not. It’s still gonna be Trevor’s seat, which I’m thankful for because I don’t want to do anything to mess up his career, but winning that race definitely makes coming into this week a lot easier.

“DID THAT WIN LEGITIMIZE YOU? “I guess you could say it did, but I felt like we were a legit race team going into last weekend. We’ve run in the top-five with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and all the Cup guys that come down. We’ve led laps with them. We’ve been fastest in practice in our Nationwide car, so I feel like we were a legit team, but I think that win finally solidifies it and it’s done with.

Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing Ford

Photo by: Motorsport.com / ASP Inc.

“WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN JIMMIE JOHNSON COMES UP TO YOU AFTER QUALIFYING TO CONGRATULATE YOU? DID YOU TALK TO A LOT OF GUYS? “I talked to a lot of them on pit road. I didn’t have time to hang around the Cup garage while bouncing back and forth between the Nationwide car and Cup car, but I hit up everybody down pit road before we went out to qualify – Jeff Burton, Carl, Jimmie, Kyle and Matt – just everybody I ran across I was asking questions. Jimmie gave me some good advice and he was just making sure he didn’t lie to me. He came over and asked.

“HOW GRUELING DO YOU THINK THIS 600 IS GOING TO BE FOR YOU? “I haven’t even raced 500 miles. That’s two Nationwide races and this is our longest Nationwide race. Normally, our Nationwide races are 200 or 250, so they’re gonna throw the longest Nationwide race in and longest Cup race in at one time, but I’m definitely gonna be getting a lot of sleep before.

“DOES THAT MAKE YOU REALIZE EVERYONE HAS FAITH AND CONFIDENCE IN YOU THAT YOU CAN DO BOTH? “I feel like they’ve got confidence in me for sticking with me from last year. It doesn’t have anything to do with them putting me in this Cup car. We struggled last year and for Jack and everybody at Roush Fenway and Ford Racing to stick behind us was huge.”

-source: ford racing