Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
GEICO 500 Media Availability (Talladega Superspeedway)
Friday, April 27, 2018
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Fusion, returns to Talladega Superspeedway one year removed from victory at the track. Stenhouse met with media members Friday morning ahead of opening practice.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Fusion — THIS IS A PLACE WHERE FORD RUNS REALLY WELL AND YOU GOT YOUR FIRST CUP SERIES WIN, HOW DOES IT FEEL COMING HERE? “It feels good to be back home I guess you could say. I think for us, I would like to continue that streak of Ford Performance being in victory lane here. I would like to back up what we were able to do last year with qualifying on the pole and then winning the race. That is what we came down here to do. We feel very confident in our race cars when we come here. Jimmy Fennig and the guys have been working really hard at the shop on our speedway cars since Daytona. They were a little disappointed we didn’t really contend for the pole there. I think they have worked a little extra hard to see if we can back up our pole like we had here last time. I am anxious to get out there and make some more laps around here. Not sure how much drafting we are going to do. I felt really good with our car at Daytona. The way it was performing in the draft and way it handled. I am not sure exactly what Pattie’s plan is but I think we are going to do more single-car runs today and just see what kind of speed we can get in our Fifth Third Ford.”
CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR IMPRESSIONS AND TAKE ON THE MATT KENSETH ANNOUNCEMENT THIS WEEK AND HOW IT MAY AFFECT YOU AND YOUR TEAM? “I thought you would never ask. Just kidding. I think having Matt — I got to work with Matt when I was in the Nationwide Series at the time. He would run a couple races with us throughout the year and he was in our Cup cars. I leaned on Matt a lot my rookie year in the Nationwide Series. I called him and would ask him questions trying to figure out when I was struggling. I really had to get back on track. I think he did a really good job with me on that. So fast forward to now, after he left and went to Gibbs and drove different race cars, for me I am looking forward to his feedback on how our cars drive relative to another organization that is clearly one of the class of the field. I think on that side I am anxious to kind of see his feedback. On my side, I think there are a lot of things that I have yet to learn. When some of that is trying to get the most out of the race car without stepping out of the boundaries. I still struggle with that at times. For me I think it will be a win-win for myself and our team.”
DO YOU THINK HE WILL BE WORKING WITH THE DRIVER OR IN THE HOUSE GIVING INPUT ON EVERYTHING? “I don’t think Matt is a full-time engineer or anything to come in and change things on our cars by looking at it. I think it will be a little of both. Like I said, I will be asking Matt a ton of questions and Trevor (Bayne) will as well. Trying to get as much feedback as we can on the championship ways that Matt has and winning races. On the driver side, I think it will be up to Trevor and I to ask questions and get that feedback but I think on the car side all of us drivers have certain little things that we like in race cars. I feel like I have kind of got some of my things that I enjoy having in a race car and every time we have it in we run better. I think some of those things that Matt may have had from years past and the previous teams he’s ran for might be able to bring some of that over as well.”
HAVE YOU TALKED TO TREVOR AND GIVEN HIM ANY GUIDANCE? IS THIS WELCOME RELIEF OR STRESSFUL FOR YOU GUYS? “I don’t think it is stressful for myself. I am looking forward to getting the feedback from Matt on cars, driving things, really all across the board. I have talked to Trevor. I told him that I have been through this in a totally different series and probably a lot different stage in life. I told him just to keep his head down, go out and keep running races and prove to everybody that you have what it takes and don’t really listen to anything from the fans, media or other teams and just do your deal. That was the feedback that I gave him.”
YOU ARE DOING THE DRIVERS BROADCAST TOMORROW. CAN YOU REFLECT ON DOING THAT LAST YEAR AND YOUR NEW ROLE WITH IT THIS YEAR? “Yeah, I think for me I am looking forward to it. We had a lot of fun at Pocono last year. Doing the pit reporting was fun. I am looking forward to getting in the Hollywood Hotel and giving Larry Mac a hard time from second guessing Brian Pattie’s pit call last week. That will be fun. Him and (Jeff) Gordon were bashing him until it worked out. I will have some fun with that.”
YOU HAD A GOOD RUN AT BRISTOL, IS IT COMPARABLE TO DOVER COMING UP AT ALL? “I wish it was identical. I think the feel in the race car needs to be about the same. We ran really well at the first Dover race and blew a right-front tire so we are looking forward to getting back there. I feel like we learned a lot at Bristol in our practice sessions that helped us for that race. A couple things we tried that we liked in our race car that we hadn’t been running at Bristol. I am looking forward to getting that at Dover and see if that helps our performance there as well.”
CAN YOU GIVE YOUR PREDICTION OF IF THE RACING HERE WILL BE CHAOTIC LIKE DAYTONA OR WILL DRIVERS BEHAVE THEMSELVES FOR THE MOST PART? “I don’t know. For me, a lot of us that right now are looking at pointing our way in, if you don’t have a win, the stage points are pretty valuable. The cars that are around 14th to 18th, 19th in points I would say if you look across the board they don’t get as many stage points as the cars in the top-10 in points. For us, it is a great opportunity to go get stage points. That is the way I look at it. I want to be in the top-10, lead stages, win stages and get as many points as we can. One of the reasons why I like to do that is because you can ride around in the back, not get any stage points and go race at the end and have the opportunity to race at the end but if you get caught in a wreck with 10 to go, you are still sitting there with no points. Looking back at the first Daytona last year, I remember (Kevin) Harvick crashing out after stage 2 but he still had quite a bit more points than some of those cars that rode around and got caught in another wreck. That was all due to stage points. For me, I am going to be aggressive and try to keep our Fifth Third Ford up front and get as many points as possible. I can’t speak for everybody else but I like driving hard and giving fans something good to watch. The fans really enjoyed when we were all racing hard at Daytona and I think they get pretty frustrated when we get in single-file. If you are the leader you don’t mind it but for the most part I would like for everybody to race all day long.”
YOU AND TREVOR (BAYNE) SPENT A LOT OF TIME TOGETHER IN THE XFINITY SERIES. WITH HIS FUTURE UNCERTAIN, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HIM STEP DOWN TO THE XFINITY SERIES AND HELP THE YOUNGER DRIVERS? “I think for Trevor, I want us both to keep performing better than what we are. I am not happy with our performance. I know Trevor is not happy with their performance. Really I would just like to see us both elevate our performance throughout the season. No different than we talked about last year within our organization that we wanted to continue to get better and we have charts in our shop that we try to mark off goals each and every week. Driver, pit crews, car performances, things like that. We want to keep elevating that. As far as helping our Xfinity guys, that is something I have been asking for. They have all the races filled up. Trevor and I over the last three years have been asking to run some Xfinity cars but really haven’t had the opportunity. I got to run one maybe last year or the year before. Since I have been out of the Xfinity Series since 2012 I have only ran two races. I am bummed about that. Before they limited the amount of races you could run, I wanted to run both series full time but wasn’t ever able to. It would be nice to go down and help the Xfinity guys and see if we could get that program going a little bit better as well.
AS A DRIVER, WHEN YOU HAVE “THAT CAR” A CAR THAT IS A TICK BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE VERSUS OTHER TIMES WHEN MAYBE YOU DIDN’T HAVE THAT CAR. DOES IT ALTER YOUR DRIVING STYLE AND WHAT YOU CAN DO? “The spring race last year I felt like when we qualified on the pole by a decent amount that we had a car that was pretty special and you want to capitalize with that. We came back in the fall and didn’t quite have the exact speed that we had in the spring race but we still had a really good car. You have to work a little harder to stay up front, make passes, things like that. It is just being able to do things different throughout the race when you have a car that has that kind of speed. I know the guys are hoping we have that kind of speed in it again.”
DOES YOUR TWO VICTORIES LAST YEAR GIVE YOU A BOOST OF CONFIDENCE THAT YOU LIKE THIS STYLE OR RACING AND CAN GET IT DONE HERE? “Yeah, after Daytona I didn’t like it. We crashed out. These races, when I first got to Roush Fenway, the first time I ran for Jack (Roush) was 2008 in the ARCA car at Daytona and we crashed. He told me it would be a love-hate relationship. You either love it or you hate it and you can love and hate it. I think all us drivers are that way. You go up and down. I feel like for us we have been able to get probably better finishes than crashing out more races. I feel like I am on the “love it” side right now. I think it can quickly turn to crashing out of three of them in a row and then you are back bummed about it. Right now I do think coming into a race like Talladega with a thought process of enjoying this place and wanting to run well and feeling like you can, keeping an open mind about it, definitely makes the race go better.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS HAVE TURNED A CORNER AND FOUND SOMETHING THE LAST COUPLE WEEKS? “I think a little bit of both. We were looking back at our performances last year at Texas, Bristol and Richmond and I think our finish was better at Richmond but our green-flag average was about the same. Looking at Texas, our green-flag average was the same as last year. Bristol we were a little better than we were last year. No doubt they are good race tracks for us and I feel like our cars performed better at those race tracks right now for some reason. I look back at last year and feel like I got better finishes out of Richmond and Texas and I want to be able to cap those races off. Our good tracks, we have to cap those races off with good finishes. I think we are definitely learning with our cars and definitely are in a better spot right now than were we were going to Las Vegas so that is a positive. Every time I show up to the race track I feel our cars are getting better and trending in the right direction. I just have to not make as many mistakes so we can get the finishes the team deserves.
YOU MENTIONED THE FANS PERCEPTION OF WHAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING OUT THERE. HOW AWARE ARE YOU OF THAT FROM WEEK TO WEEK AND WHY IS THEIR PERCEPTION OF WHAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING IMPORTANT TO YOU? “I think it should be important to all of us. We should want to put on a show for the fans. I think there are a ton of fans that come to Talladega and expect three and four-wide racing all day. For one, that is a product of what they got used to for a long time. I think right now when we are three and four-wide, the racing is way better than it was back in the day. I watched some of the older races back when people were like, ‘Oh, that is good racing.’ They were single-file for the most part. There were cars that could come up through the field but they were single-file for the most part. I think for us, it is nerve wracking and mentally draining. When you get in a single-file line you get to relax a bit and are not thinking as much and you just kind of ride around. For me, after about five or six laps of running around here single-file at Talladega, I am like, ‘Man, the fans have to be getting bummed about this.’ Look at Bristol, I thought the race was spectacular. I thought the two grooves there on the long runs being able to run the top and bottom and move people up off the bottom on the short runs, I thought the track was ideal for what we had. I am bummed it was 100% chance of rain on Sunday and a lot of fans didn’t get a chance to see it. For me, Bristol, Richmond and I hope Talladega are all good races that fans enjoy.”