Stenhouse relaxed heading into final at Homestead 300

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr., took part in NASCAR’s annual championship contenders press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway Thursday afternoon. Stenhouse, looking for his second consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship , took the stage with a 20-point lead on Elliott Sadler and discussed the upcoming race weekend and more.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO JOIN THE SELECT GROUP OF BACK-TO-BACK NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES CHAMPIONS? “That would be huge. That was the goal that we set coming into this year. I think we set a few goals actually. We wanted to win 6-10 races and I was hoping we would be closer to 10 but the six is a great accomplishment for our team. I think we have ran a lot better and scored way more points than we did last year. Even going into last weekend we were tied in points. I think it is a testament to this series and how well Elliott and Austin and their guys have ran. The level of competition has really stepped up this year and it has been fun to be a part of. We are coming down to my favorite race track and I can’t think of a better place to finish it off.”

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE THREE OF YOU? IS THERE MUCH KIDDING GOING ON? IS THERE MUCH TRASH TALKING? “I think you know us and there is a lot of talking going on. We get along. We have been with each other, at least Elliott and I have, the last two years racing and parked in the garage next to each other every week. Our teams get along and we fly on the same planes. If you don’t get along it makes for a long season. This year has been fun with these guys and bringing Austin in with us. It has been a regular relationship if you want to call it – a friendship. Each one of us wants to beat each other as much as the other one does and we go out to do that every week but off the track it is a friendship.”

YOU FOUND OUT DURING THE SEASON YOU WOULD BE MOVING UP TO CUP NEXT YEAR. WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF THAT ON THIS YEAR FOR YOU? WAS IT AN EMOTIONAL LIFT FOR YOU? “The announcement I guess was kind of exciting with the news of going into the 17 car with Matt’s (Kenseth) sponsors Best Buy, Zest and Fifth Third. Jack (Roush) and I had been talking of running a fourth car next year anyway so that wasn’t really news. We already had that in the works. It didn’t really change my outlook on the season but it is comforting knowing that you have that in place. Last year I came into Homestead and we won the championship and still didn’t know if we were running Cup or Nationwide for 2012 until the end of December. That is always nerve-racking. It is nice to have that in the back of your mind and I really haven’t thought anything about 2013 since we made that announcement because we have a job to do here.”

YOU ARE ON THE ENTRY LIST FOR THE CUP RACE SUNDAY. ANY THOUGHTS OF NOT RUNNING THAT RACE OR WAS IT IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO IT? “Jack asked me if I thought it was going to be a problem and I never did. I think that we are race car drivers and I have run the Nationwide car for the last three years now and I know the feel that I am looking for in that so when I jump over to the Cup car it doesn’t really throw me off. I come back to the Nationwide car and I know exactly what I need to do in the Nationwide car. I like track time and I like being on the race track. For race car drivers we hate listening to cars practice and we are sitting in the garage or motor home watching it. I think it will be a great weekend running both and getting another race in with Scott before next year will be a huge help too.”

RICKY STENHOUSE JR. BREAKOUT SESSION:

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GETTING TO WORK WITH SCOTT GRAVES ON THE CUP SIDE THIS WEEKEND? “It’s gonna be good working with Scott. We’ve worked together a couple of times. I felt like our Dover run was OK. Charlotte, we weren’t very good. Our pit stops kind of hurt us at Charlotte for one, but to get some more familiarity with each other, I think, will be good. We’ve got our team assembled. We know the guys that are gonna be on it and everybody seems excited, so that’s all you can ask for. I think the guys around the shop that are gonna be working on our car are talking about how they’re excited to be doing it, and that’s all I want. I want people that want to be there and work hard, and I think that’s what makes great race teams. It’s not the guys who have been doing it the longest. It’s not the guys who know the most. It’s guys that want to work hard and be there and work with each other, so I think we’ve got a good group assembled for next year and I’m looking forward to getting this weekend over with and looking forward to next year.”

WHAT GOES INTO MAKE THIS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK? “I feel if you want to build a race track, you’ve got to build it like Homestead. The progressive banking, identical ends, so your race car is similar at both ends. The tires wear out. The older asphalt is coming to life, I guess, so it wears the tires out and you slip and slide. It reminds me of racing my dirt car because you can run in on the bottom and slide up to the top, put slide jobs on guys. You can run the bottom. You can run the middle. You can run the top. I know a few times I’ve been here I’ve heard, ‘You’re four or five-wide,’ and that’s a good race track when you can run bottom to top. It’s kind of got a lane for everybody depending on where your car is running best, so I really enjoy it. We’ve had great finishes here. I think we’ve finished fourth and second, so it’s a lot of fun.”

DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE THINGS OUTSIDE THE TRACK? “No, obviously everybody loves the weather here. We love going to South Beach or the Keys, but, for me, when I say favorite it’s because of the track. Now if I say favorite for the fans, I think this is a great one because I know a lot of fans come down here for vacation and it’s a great spot. I enjoy outside and inside the race track here. I’ve played a lot of good golf here, so that’s always fun. All in all, I just love this championship weekend, especially with Ford being the presenting sponsor of the whole weekend. Obviously for us at Roush Fenway that’s a huge honor and definitely another reason why we want to win the championship and the race here. That’s what we show up for.”

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT MAKES IT YOUR FAVORITE? “There are a couple things that factor into this race track that make it my favorite. You run up near the wall is one. The tires wear out. The asphalt wears the tires out and you slide around a lot. You can run bottom, middle, top and you can run four and five-wide. It’s got a lane for everyone. I like the palm trees down the back straightaway. That’s always cool, but I think it’s just a track I showed up to, I adapted to, and I liked it. I finished fourth here our rookie year and last year we led some laps and finished second and felt like we had a really, really fast race car. I feel like we were able to win here a couple times and hopefully this year will be it.”

WHAT IS YOUR ANXIETY LEVEL? “I always take it easy. I enjoy my time, whether it’s throwing a football like I did in the motorhome lot last night or hanging out with the guys. We’re gonna have all the guys over for a cookout tonight when they get here after the garage closes. I’m really relaxed. That’s how I approach everything. I’m almost so relaxed that I almost have to tell sponsors, ‘Hey, I’m really focused on this, but this is how I like to be.’ I like being relaxed. I like goofing off. I don’t like being uptight. I don’t have any pre-race rituals. I don’t do anything the exact same every week. I can be walking around the trailer in my boxers listening to music or messing with the guys or I can do whatever. It doesn’t matter, I could be sleeping and wake up in 15 minutes and go to intos, get in the car and go race, so, for me, there’s no set schedule of what I do. There’s no, ‘Hey, I need to be really serious this weekend.’ I am who I am and I enjoy it.”

ARE YOU MORE RELAXED THIS YEAR THAN LAST YEAR? “Heck yeah, I’m more relaxed this year. We’re running better. We’re winning more races. We’re in contention for another championship. Our future is set. I know what I’m doing next year and that’s always comforting to know and that makes you more relaxed as well.”

WHAT TRACK WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INCLUDED IN THE CUP SCHEDULE THAT THE NATIONWIDE SERIES CURRENTLY RACES AT? “I would say Iowa. There’s not a ton right around the race track for fans to do, but the one good thing about Iowa is it’s an awesome race track and they’ve got great fans that come out. We pack that place for a Nationwide race. I can only imagine how many grandstands that they would have to add for a Cup race. I feel like the way our Nationwide races go there, they put temporary seating in and they sell it out. They add some more temporary stands and they sell those out as well, so I can only imagine what would happen if they had a Cup race there. It’s almost a ‘build it, they will come’ type of thing. It’s a fun race track. The people that run that race track are awesome to work with and they work very hard to make that a great race.”

AFTER THE BRISTOL RACE YOU IMMEDIATELY WENT TO SADLER AFTER BUMPING HIM ON THE TRACK. YOU OBVIOUSLY FELT BAD ABOUT THAT. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO DO THAT RIGHT AWAY? “You never want to get into anybody and move them out of the way. It is a short track. Things do happen like that and things happen really quick. After we talked about it he realized he had to lift, I had a good run, and it just happened so quick. He knows I didn’t do it on purpose, but you never want to give that impression that they might think that. Our relationship has been great. We’ve raced really hard. I learned a ton for him last year running for the championship with a lot of give-and-take that I’ve used this year, so it’s been great. They’ve pushed us as a race team. We feel like we’ve pushed them and I’ve learned a lot from him, the veteran driver that he is, so it’s been a lot of fun learning from him.”

HOW DO YOU BE AGGRESSIVE AND CAUTIOUS AT THE SAME TIME? “I don’t know cautious and I think that worries my crew chief every weekend and worries Jack as well. I race really hard every lap. I’ve tried the cautious approach when I first started and we didn’t finish many races. I felt like I made more mistakes when I was cautious, I didn’t feel like I was up on the wheel and ready to go, so that’s the way I drive. I’ve just got to go out and drive the way I know how to and that’s up on the wheel and drive it hard. I feel like at Dover this year I got relaxed and it got us in trouble. I crashed and I think that was the most points we gave up in one race, but that was from being too relaxed and too cautious, so I think we’ve got to go out and do what we’ve done all year that’s got us to this point and that’s race hard.”

DOES IT MATTER WHERE YOU START? “I don’t think so. Obviously, I think if we have a decent qualifying lap and no issues we should be in the top 10 somewhere, so I don’t think our starting position is going to be a big issue. We would like to start on the pole and get that number one pit box, that’s always nice, but that’s doesn’t always happen. That’s only happened four times for us this year and we’ve never won from the pole, so maybe we don’t need to qualify on the pole.”

DOES HAVING ALREADY WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL AS FAR AS WHAT YOU’VE GOT TO DO THIS WEEKEND? “It doesn’t change how I feel about this championship. This situation is a little different than last year. I felt like last year mathematically it was still possible, but it was really out of reach for Elliott. This year, it’s definitely within reach. A mistake by us or a tire coming apart like you saw for Jimmie last week could happen – maybe something that you can’t control. It’s a little different. I think my guys are really looking at everything on the race car. They double and triple-checked it this week. They’ll do the same here this weekend. I’ll pay really close attention to the engine. I’ll pay close attention to the transmission. The guys will look for leaks. You kind of step up your game as far as preparation goes on the race car because that’s the last thing they want is a part failure or something to happen to the race car that we might have been able to control. As far as me, it would mean a lot to win. Just because we won last year doesn’t mean we’re not gonna go for it again this year.”

Ford Racing

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Series NASCAR-NS
Article type Interview
Tags ford, hms, homestead, miami, nascar-ns, roush, stenhouse