DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Confidence. It’s something that goes a long way in determining success at any level of sport. You don’t see too many athletes that lack confidence having much success at their respective sport.
Unfortunately for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that confidence was waning a bit towards the end of his tenure with Roush Fenway Racing. It was lacking on his end and towards the teams end toward Stenhouse.
Despite that, Stenhouse thought that he had a secure future with Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse, 32, had a multiyear contract remaining with RFR for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and beyond. The Mississippi native has had a rocky relationship in the past with the organization, but he went from the hot seat in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to winning two straight championships in a span of a couple of years.
That led to a Cup ride for 2013. While he had a slow start to his Cup career, he finally had a breakout season in 2017 when he won not just once, but twice that year. Stenhouse, would make the playoffs and finish 13th overall.
But, the last two years were back to being down again. He hasn’t won since July 2017. Stenhouse, was 18th in the final standings in a winless 2018 campaign and 23rd last year. Six of his seven years at RFR on the Cup level saw Stenhouse finish 18th or worse in the final standings.
When Ryan Newman comes in and makes the playoffs in his first season at RFR last year, it put Stenhouse back on the hot seat again. He had a contract in place still and thought he was heading into 2020 with another go around.
Unfortunately for him, RFR cut ties early and replaced Stenhouse with Chris Buescher. At the time that they did so, there were limited rides available. Stenhouse’s confidence was low again. He decided to take a chance on JTG Daugherty Racing and replace Buescher with the organization.
Then his confidence starting going back up again. JTG saw something in Stenhouse and valued his capabilities — so much so, they brought in the two most successful crew chiefs Stenhouse had at RFR in Mike Kelley and Brian Pattie.
Pattie, first joined Stenhouse in 2017, his break out season. Kelley, was the big part of why Stenhouse won two NXS titles with RFR. The duo left RFR and followed Stenhouse to JTG Daugherty Racing.
Stenhouse had input in that and JTG did the rest.
“It does, and Brian (Pattie) has done a lot in this sport on the Cup side and has worked with different drivers and different teams,” Stenhouse said on the confidence of both Pattie and Kelley joining him. “Mike obviously was with Roush Fenway longer than I was, and for them to follow me over was a lot of confidence that it built up in me that they still felt like I could get the job done, but also they toured the shops, they went through and felt like the resources that JTG Daugherty Racing has are what we need to up our level of competition.
“You know, them being in the shop every day, talking to them on the days that I was out dirt racing, just talking about the things that they were getting done in the shop brought a lot of confidence to me, as well, even when I wasn’t at the shop.
“Having them in there working day in and day out has really helped the transition and helped my confidence.”
Pattie, said that he sees a lot in Stenhouse and that he liked what he saw from JTG to make him want to take the risk of leaving RFR.
“You know, it was multiple things,” Pattie said on why he left RFR to take a chance on Stenhouse and JTG. “Obviously Ricky was a huge part, but just talking to Tad, Tad and Ernie, met with them for three hours. That’s a pretty long interview. The crazy thing is we talked about racing maybe 20 percent of the time. So I wanted to get a feel for how they are character-wise away from the track, what kind of people they are. And it reminded me a lot of NEMCO. I told them that. Had a lot of success at NEMCO for 11 years, and I want to get back to that.
As far as Ricky, you know what he can accomplish moving forward? Pattie, has no doubt that they can turn this No. 47 Chevrolet into a race winning organization.
“Obviously we’ve had success, won races, and I think the mentality we have at JTG, it’s a racing mentality of just do what it takes, fits me, fits my mold,” Pattie continued. “I’m not a meeting guy. I hate meetings. When you have more than one meeting in a week, it kind of frustrates me, especially when they get nothing accomplished. This program just seems easier, right. They trust what I have to say, and we just do it. We get graded every Sunday night, and obviously we were graded today and we have an A+, but we need to do this for 36 weeks.”
Stenhouse, earned that A+ for the team when he went out and won the pole last Sunday for the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN). It was just his third career Busch Pole Award but it spoke volumes that he joins JTG and immediately wins a pole.
“I think there’s a handful of us that feel like we have something to prove,” Stenhouse said on the switch between teams. “And two of those are in my corner with me at JTG Daugherty Racing with Mike and Brian. I know that I feel like I can still get the job done behind the wheel and win races like we did in the Xfinity Series, and I know Brian believes in what the JTG Daugherty — their resources that they have at the race shop, the engines, the Chevys. I mean, he just believes in what they have and feel really confident that we’re going to be able to show what we both can do together, and I’m excited to continue that relationship.
“That was a huge move for me going over there, bringing people that I’m familiar with that have always been in my corner, and to go to a whole brand new place, I think I’d have been lost not having them there.
“But to see the way they mesh with Jodi and Tad and Ernie, the way they’ve built that place up, they’ve smoothed transition right in, and just being at the shop with all the new people that the company has, it’s been a good off-season, but we definitely have something to prove.
“I know that this is Daytona 500 qualifying. It’s one lap. It’s one weekend. But I know that they’re putting the same effort into our Las Vegas car that we’re taking to Las Vegas as what they’ve been putting into our 500 car.
“I think this is just signs of things to come, of our speed that we’re going to have with our 47 team.”
For Pattie, a Daytona 500 pole is huge. See, he’s a native Floridan and to get a pole in your homestate at the year’s biggest race, well it punches some weight.
“Yeah, it’s cool. We sat on the pole here in the 400 with (Greg) Biffle in ’16, won both Xfinity races here in the 400 and the fall, so this is the last one on the bucket list, and is obviously is a big step. So this is a step in the right direction, and yeah, it means a lot.”
A win on Sunday would mean a lot. Stenhouse, is one of the more aggressive superspeedway racers in the series today. Other drivers have taken notice. But, his aggression and having a proven fast race car could forces his competitors to work with him, not against him, on Sunday afternoon.
“Yeah, I think I’ve noticed over the years of speedway racing that when you have a fast car, obviously you get — sometimes you get more people to work with you, sometimes you don’t,” said Stenhouse. “But I noticed we qualified on the pole at Talladega. The car was really fast, and I felt like it was easier for me to make moves knowing that I felt like I had enough speed to pull out of line and get the job done.
“You know, that to me is all that really matters is I know what our car is capable of speed-wise, and that helps me make moves.”
But, does having a fast race car cause him to make different, more cautious moves, inside of the race car?
“Yeah, I think for me in the little drafting that I did on Saturday’s practice, you know, the car definitely drives a little bit different. I feel like my moves are going to have to be a little bit more calculated. I know Brian, we’ve already talked about a few things that we need to adjust on our race car for Sunday. I feel like your car on Sunday needs to be a lot different than you qualify and run your Duel with, and so we’re going to continue to look at that. I feel like I want to learn a lot Thursday in the Duel to try and figure out what all we need come Sunday because in those practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, you end up getting a little bit of a draft, but you don’t get a race draft like you do on Thursday.
“We’re going to just take notes, and we’ve got a full week to come up with what we need for Sunday during the 500.
“But definitely going to have to be a little bit more calculated when your car is a little bit looser, but when Brian gets it dialed in for me, I’ll be able to be aggressive again.”
Unfortunately for Stenhouse, the pole winning car hasn’t had much success in the Daytona 500 lately. No pole winner has won this race since Dale Jarrett since 2000.