Ricky Stenhouse Jr., doesn’t plan to race Danica Patrick any differently from usual in the Daytona 500.
Despite being inseparable on the track and off over the last five years, the couple split following the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, and Patrick has since moved on to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers.
Patrick is expected to make her final NASCAR start in next month’s Great American Race.
“I try to respect everyone around me, especially at the speedway races,” Stenhouse said. “I don’t really want to put anybody in a bad spot, because then you put the whole field in a bad spot. I think I’ll go out and race just like I race everybody else and see how it plays out.
“Heck, when we first started racing together, we got in crashes anyway. It is what it is. I’ll just go out and race as hard as I can. I plan on putting myself in a position to win the race. If it helps me, I’ll help just like the way I do everybody else out there. If I can help and it’s going to benefit myself, then I will. I try not to help people if it’s only going to benefit them on the race track.”
On Patrick's final Daytona 500
As for Patrick securing a ride with Premium Motorsports, Stenhouse believed it was only a matter of time.
“I think it’s a cool way to go out if you’re going to retire for someone that’s done the Daytona 500 running NASCAR,” Stenhouse said. “Running IndyCar, her passion has always been the Indy 500. So I think it’s cool for that to be her last race and to hit the two biggest races of the year, really, in the same year will be pretty cool.”
Following his breakout season in 2017—with wins at both Talladega Superspeedway in May and Daytona International Speedway in July and his first Playoff berth—Stenhouse is quite confident entering Speedweeks.
Stepping it up for 2018
But he knows that, to contend for titles, the team will have to step up its game.
“I’d like to start out the year at Daytona winning,” Stenhouse said. “If not, I really want to win at Bristol this year. I feel like we had a really fast car in the second race last year, but I sped on pit road. I’m going to have to minimize my mistakes on pit road, I feel like. We sped way too often last year, and it cost us some valuable time and spots.
“For us, as a team, we have to get better at the mile-and-a-half race tracks and then we have to earn more stage points. And that all comes with faster race cars and getting your program better at those race tracks. I felt like there were so many opportunities last year that we missed out on getting stage points—finishing 11th, finishing 12th. So if we can make some adjusts to finish in the top 10 in some of those stages, I think it would be beneficial for us as well.”