By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the 40-car field for Sunday’s 62nd running of the Daytona 500 rolls toward the green flag this afternoon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will have the best view of anyone as he starts the race from the pole position.
The Olive Branch, Mississippi native may be in a new home with JTG-Daugherty Racing in 2020, but he is no stranger to success on the restrictor plate tracks, having won at both Daytona and Talladega in 2017.
With that past success in his back pocket and the outright speed that his No. 47 Chevrolet has shown since the start of Speedweeks, Stenhouse isn’t holding back on how he feels about his chances to contend for his first win in the Great American Race.
“We’re going to be a factor for sure,” Stenhouse said. “I feel like last time we won a pole at a speedway, we were able to win from the pole at Talladega, and I feel really confident about obviously the speed that’s in our race car and what my guys were able to accomplish all off-season and make a jump to have a chance at winning the pole and then doing it.”
Stenhouse was able to parlay his speed from qualifying into a strong showing in Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels, leading four times for 27 laps. Though he faded late when he lost his drafting partner in Denny Hamlin and finished the Duels in eighth-place, Stenhouse showed his Camaro has the speed to be in the mix on Sunday should he be able to avoid the carnage that is sure to occur during the 200-lap race.
In addition to having a fast Chevrolet, Stenhouse will also be carry a chip on his shoulder into Sunday’s race as he looks to silence the naysayers after getting the boot from Roush-Fenway Racing at the end of the 2019 season.
“I’ve got a lot of motivation,” Stenhouse said. “Brian Pattie has got a lot of motivation. Mike Kelley, they’ve been in the shop all hands-on deck with our race cars this off-season. Put a lot of effort into our 500 car, but we also put that same amount of effort into our Las Vegas car, our mile-and-a-half program. They went back to the shop. They were starting working Monday, Tuesday, in the wind tunnel and figuring out what we need in those race cars for the rest of the season.
“I think the guys in the shop definitely proved that they know how to make cars so fast, and I was excited for Brian and Mike and everybody else that obviously worked on these race cars. To be able to come down and knock a Hendrick car off the pole after they’ve won it so often and then obviously to, like you said, we’ve got something to prove, and I think we’re going to.”
Having raced at Roush-Fenway for the entirety of his Cup Series career, Stenhouse noted that a change of scenery with his new home at JTG-Daugherty could be just what the doctor ordered for him and crew chief Brian Pattie, who moved over to the No. 47 team with him.
“I think it’s just kind of got my mindset back in the game,” Stenhouse continued. “You know, you get kind of stuck in a rut for a while at the same place, doing the same things and getting the same results. You know, now having a fresh start, me as a driver, kind of opening my eyes a little bit more to maybe doing things a little bit different behind the wheel, and then being at a race team that is pretty open to doing whatever we need to do to make our cars fast, whether that be going to the wind tunnel, calling the shop and saying, hey, quit building race cars because we’ve got to change something, and you get done and you end up cutting a part of the race car off and redoing it.
“You know, so I feel like the race team is open to different ideas, and that’s been a cool part of the off-season, hanging out in the shop as Ernie — the way he runs the shop is really, I think, kind of a special place, and we’ve got resources. For me, I think that it’s just a whole different mindset from top to bottom.”