There was very little apprehension in Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s approach to the Can-Am Duels.
While many teams elected to use a conservative approach to the qualifying race, the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford was confident enough in his talent and his equipment to attempt moves that others did not dare.
Trying to make something happen
Throughout the 60-lap contest, Stenhouse was one of the few drivers that repeatedly dropped out of the conga line and to the inside lane to make something happen.
“I think I got a lot more knowledge than somebody that kind of rode around,” Stenhouse said. “We drafted with our 500 car in practice more than we normally would before qualifying. We drafted a lot in the Clash practice then had the Clash race as well. I felt like I learned a lot more last night. It will be interesting to see how many cars try and get their car tuned up in the draft. We have an idea what we want to do to our car. We probably won’t draft a whole lot today because I feel like I’ve already learned what I needed to.
“But I definitely think I have more knowledge compared to Alex (Bowman, Daytona 500 polesitter) who wasn't up in there. But heck, he has a pole position start so you don’t want to tear it up. I felt Denny (Hamlin) did a good job of racing around up front, knowing what his car was going to do. Once he got shuffled out, he bailed out so he still had a car that could start on the front row.”
Stenhouse finished fourth in the first Duel. The team knew its driver could be aggressive because the No. 17 backup car was solid. After driving the Ford in the Clash, Stenhouse wasn’t worried about wrecking the primary.
“The cars are definitely a handful,” Stenhouse said. “But since really the Clash practice, I thought our car was driving really good. I actually got my team to bring the Clash car back down here after it went home in case something happened in the Duel, I wanted to run that car because I was confident in how after it drove on Sunday.
“For me, I kept restarting on the bottom lane and would get back in line. I was running 10th to 12th and just trying to work my way back and finish in the top five, if I not have a chance at the win. I felt confident about the car that we brought back down here. I was going to leave it all out there, be aggressive and learn as much as I can if it does get single-file come Sunday, how I can pick my way to the front.”
Crew chief Brian Pattie suggested certain moments in the race for Stenhouse to drop out of the pack and test the waters. After winning two of the restrictor plate races in 2017, the team knows it has the resources to be a contender in the Daytona 500.
Since NASCAR instituted changes with the superspeedway cars since Stenhouse’s successes last year, the driver used the Clash and the Duel to find out what he needed to do to put himself in a better position come Sunday.
“I was getting a little greedy, trying to pass three and four cars at one time instead of picking up one at a time,” Stenhouse said. “But I was trying to learn as much as I could. Our Fastenal Ford drove really good and that was a positive talking to other people in the garage. The (Nos.) 4 and 14 (Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer), they said they were really loose. And that was something I felt really comfortable with our car, being around cars, getting close to them, running the top, bottom, middle. I wasn’t.
“I wasn’t really having to guard as much as I feel like the others were going to so maybe by Sunday when it’s hot and slick, hopefully, that’s going to pay off. We’re going to work on it a little more today. I told the guys I want to work on a few things to make it better. But I like where our car is at, the speed that it has and the drivability that it has in it right now.”
While Stenhouse’s comfort level was high, that wasn’t the case for some of his fellow competitors— particularly when the No. 17 Ford was inside lane. Two of the wrecks in the first Can-Am Duel were triggered when Stenhouse pulled up alongside of William Byron and David Gilliland, even though he never physically touched either car.
“When you get such a big run down the straightaway and then you pull out left it just seems to take so much air off the rear of their car and gets them really loose,” Stenhouse said. “For me, (Kyle) Larson did it to me in the Clash going in Turn 1. I talked to him later and he said if I would have done that same move to him, he would have probably spun out if he were in my position. My car got loose when he did that, but it was somewhat comfortable.
“I felt good about the times I was in that position but it will be a handful come Sunday, for sure.”