The Coca-Cola 600 has never taken a huge toll on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 23: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2011, but he got his money’s worth in his debut at NASCAR’s highest level.

Driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford for the only time in his career, Stenhouse completed all 402 laps of a Coca-Cola 600 that went overtime.

“Don’t do what I did,” Stenhouse said of his first foray with NASCAR’s elite. “My first start was in the 600. I hit the wall of Lap 9. We qualified ninth. I hit the wall I think two more times after that. But it ended up, the way everything worked out, we ended up finishing 11th.

“I had a really fast car, but you’ve got to be patient. I think this race… I’ve been good during the day and struggled at night. I’ve had cars where you kind of stay the same throughout the whole night. I do think that, with this (2019) package, you’re going to have a lot of comers and goers when the temperature changes and the sun goes down.”

Stenhouse believes last Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race may be a good predictor of what happens in the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“I felt like my car, during the day in practice (for the All-Star race), was driving really good and had OK speed,” Stenhouse said. “But once it cooled off, everybody else’s car started driving better, and the ones with more speed prevailed, so we struggled when the sun went down.

“So we brought a little bit different package here (for the 600) versus the ideas that we had going into the All-Star Race.”

Even though Stenhouse’s first Cup start came in NASCAR’s longest race, he doesn’t view the grind of 600 miles as a negative.

“It wasn’t hard to begin with,” he said. “It’s just more laps. I put a ton of training in anyway. Even when I didn’t put a ton of training in, I felt prepared. Hydration is key, and I feel like everybody in the garage is a lot smarter than they used to be when it comes to hydration. That’s the key.”

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