DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. simply wanted to make something happen.
But the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was shocked at how quickly the rear end of William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet snapped around when Stenhouse poked the nose of his Fusion to the inside Byron’s car in the first 150-mile qualifying race in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel.
The Hendrick motorsports rookie was a victim of aerodynamics, and when Stenhouse took the air off his car, Byron nosed into the outside wall, forcing him to a backup car for Sunday’s Daytona 500. He’ll join teammate and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, a casualty of an earlier incident in the same race, at the rear of the field for the Great American Race.
“I was really surprised at the 24, ‘cause we were almost back on the straightaway,” Stenhouse said on Friday during a question-and-session with a handful of reporters in the Daytona media center.
“It was a little bit interesting that his car must have been that loose, because we were hitting the tri-oval and back onto the straightaway.”
Later in the event, Stenhouse attempted to move to the inside of David Gilliland’s Ford, with a similar result. Gilliland, like Byron, will start the Daytona 500 in a backup car.
For more than two years, a point of emphasis at Roush Fenway racing has been the development of its superspeedway cars. That effort paid off in a pair of Stenhouse victories at Talladega and Daytona last year.
With his car capable of running the bottom lane in the Can-Am Duel, and with the Team Penske cars of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski leading a freight train around the top, Stenhouse was trying to pick his way forward—but could find few allies on the bottom of the track.
“The top lane is just so dominant,” Stenhouse told the NASCAR Wire Service. “It has been for a while. It takes a good group of cars to get the bottom going. I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve done at our company in the last two years is to work on our speedway cars to get ‘em where we can run the bottom.
“I felt like, for the first two or three years of my Cup career, I couldn’t run the bottom very good. I had to stay in the top lane to keep my momentum up. I feel like I’ve been able to be on the offensive side, now that I can run the bottom.”
Based on their respective misfortunes, Byron and Gilliland may have thought Stenhouse was a bit too aggressive. But Stenhouse was trying to learn as much as possible throughout the course of the race.
“It was tough when all the Penske guys kind of had us all lined up,” Stenhouse said. “I was just trying to get people to get to the bottom with me and get double-file. I was kind of bored riding around. I was trying to give the fans something they wanted to watch, rather than just riding around.”
Stenhouse finished fourth in the Duel behind Blaney, Logano and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. the excellent handling of his car and his willingness to use it should make Stenhouse a factor in Sunday’s season-opening points race.