Ricky Stenhouse Jr. now the ‘old guy’ as Roush Fenway undergoes ‘culture shift’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “never really thought it would happen.” Entering his ninth season in NASCAR, he’s now the “old guy” at Roush Fenway Racing.

“I’ve been at Roush Fenway the longest now,” Stenhouse said last week at the NASCAR Media Tour, three months after he turned 29. “I signed with Roush in 2007, so it’s been a while. It’s been a journey that I’ve enjoyed. It’s a new chapter for me now to kind of take the reins and make sure we lay the buggy in the right direction.”

Stenhouse is the lead driver after the previous “old guy,” Greg Biffle, amicably parted ways with the team the day after last year’s Cup Series finale. Biffle, 47, left after driving for Roush since 1998, when Stenhouse was 11 and teammate Trevor Bayne was 7.

Now Roush will only field Stenhouse and Bayne, making its Cup Series operation a two-car effort for the first time since 1995.

“I feel good about that and Trevor, along with me, we’re gonna have to make sure that when we come back from the weekend we let them know what direction we need to go to make our cars better and better every week,” said Stenhouse, who has yet to win in four full-time Cup seasons with Roush. “I think we started last season fairly strong and we fell off. That was something that we weren’t able to maintain and that’s something we’ve got down in our notes.”

Stenhouse earned a career-best four top fives last season before finishing 21st in the standings.

Bayne, entering his third season with Roush, said the car reduction and personnel changes in the offseason is a small part of a “culture shift” within the walls of the team that hasn’t won a race or made the playoffs the last two seasons.

“I feel like we did not keep up the way that we wanted to (last year),” Bayne said. “So what we have to learn is … ‘How do you stay motivated and make the gains from Michigan to Homestead that you make in the off-season, that you show up to Atlanta and Daytona with?’ That’s what we have to do as a team. We have to stay motivated.

“I think the guys are motivated, but we have to continue to communicate better. You’ve heard this a lot at Roush Fenway Racing in particular is a culture shift and a communication shift. I think that’s taking place. You don’t have a culture shift by replacing one or two people or by hiring new personnel. The culture shift has to be ingrained into every single person in the organization, and I think we’re getting closer and closer to being to that point where everybody believes that we can do it at Roush Fenway Racing.”

Another part of the culture shift – or culture maturation – is Bayne and Stenhouse putting aside any teammate rivalry, which was highlighted by Roush’s social media team anytime the drivers would be near each other on the track

“I think Ricky and I have kind of realized in the last couple of years of being teammates at the Cup level that it’s not Ricky versus Trevor anymore,” Bayne said. “It’s Roush Fenway Racing versus everybody else.”

Two years removed from its last Cup win, Roush Fenway will begin finding out if its “culture shift” will stick with the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

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Truex has solved puzzle of Martinsville, now wants a win there

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There was a point where Martin Truex Jr. wouldn’t have been blamed if he wanted to change his first name every time he raced at Martinsville Speedway.

He absolutely hated the place more often than loved it because the half-mile paperclip shaped track rarely showed him any love.

In Truex’s first 18 NASCAR Cup races at Martinsville, he had an average finish of 23.1 (and an average start of 18.1).

During that 18-race stretch, which began in 2006 and ran through 2014, Truex finished 20th or worse 11 times.

But somewhere, somehow, some way, a switch was thrown in 2015 and suddenly Martinsville has become one of Truex’s better tracks.

In his last four starts there, he’s finished sixth (in both 2015 races), 18th (last spring) and seventh (last fall). That most recent appearance also included his first pole at Martinsville.

Truex’s average finish in those four races is 9.25, while his average start in the same number of races is 5.5.

Is it any wonder that a track Truex once dreaded to go to has now become one he’s looking forward to returning to this weekend for Sunday’s STP 500. He’s hoping the next step there is a win.

“From my standpoint Martinsville has gone from a puzzle to a place where I continue to feel more comfortable,” Truex said in media release. “We’ve had some good runs there recently and this weekend will be a good test to see where we stand with our short track program.

“We know we can get it done at the intermediate and superspeedway tracks.”

Truex comes into this weekend ranked third in the NASCAR Cup standings. He won at Las Vegas, was fourth this past Sunday at Fontana and eighth at Atlanta. His worst finishes thus far in 2017 have been 13th at Daytona and 11th at Phoenix.

That’s an impressive season average finish to date of 7.4 (and an average start of 13.2).

Truex also is tied for most stage wins (with Kevin Harvick) with three and his eight playoff bonus points leads the Cup Series. He also ranks second in laps led with 225.

Still, Truex isn’t satisfied with what he’s done thus far.

“We’ve had a pretty good run so far,” he said. “However there’s still plenty of room for improvement. We might be a tick off here and there but overall not a bad start to the season.”

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 72: Jeff Gluck on the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano video at Vegas

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Longtime NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss his viral video of the Kyle BuschJoey Logano confrontation and his foray into self-service journalism.

Gluck, who started his own website (www.jeffgluck.com, which has a revenue model based on reader donations) to cover racing in January, captured Busch’s march through the pits at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and subsequent swing at Logano after the Cup drivers were involved in a last-lap crash.

For several years, Gluck’s postrace routine has been to canvas the garage and pit area for incidents such as this, but he had no inkling that he would capture this moment.

He was headed toward the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (who lost the lead in the closing laps because of a mechanical failure) when he spotted Busch.

“I see this yellow blur out of the corner of my eye, not walking super fast, but walking faster in the same direction I was,” Gluck said on the podcast. “And I turned around and thought, “Kyle! Why is he going this way? The care center is not this way? Oh he’s mad at somebody.’

“But I didn’t know who or why. So, the bottom line is when you see Kyle Busch angrily walking down pit road, you take your phone out.”

Gluck lingered in the pits and talked to Logano and briefly contemplated waiting on Busch outside the care center before deciding to upload the video, pronto.

“There was a huge moment of hesitation,” he said. “I stood there for about 30 seconds and was a little shocked.

“Judging by the Twitter mentions, I realized it wasn’t on TV. I should probably post this right away.”

The video quickly garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube and spread around the world (emails seeking approval of use arrived from Denmark).

“Thor from Denmark,” Gluck said with a laugh. “(He) said, ‘Hi, your great video has made it all the way to Denmark. We have much interest in this! Can we play it on our local sports broadcast? He of all people doubled back to me a couple of times to make sure there were no rights issues.”

Other topics discussed:

–The aftermath of the video and the decisions he made on distribution.

–The progress of his eponymous site through its first two months.

–Why he thinks there was such an overwhelming reaction to his site (he attributes some of it to the 2016 election cycle).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Driven to Give Gloves’ program returns beginning at Martinsville

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For the second season in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Dale Jr. Foundation will take part in a “Driven to Give Gloves” program to benefit the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and four Patient Champions.

Nationwide has been a primary sponsor of Earnhardt in the NASCAR Cup Series since September 2014.

Earnhardt will wear four different colored versions of his skeleton-themed racing gloves throughout the season, beginning this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. After four month-long cycles with the gloves, they’ll be auctioned off to raise money for the work done by the researchers and physicians at the hospital.

“The Driven to Give Gloves Program is a great way to showcase our partnership with Nationwide and to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a press release. “This program is really a unique opportunity for us to work with Nationwide while also fulfilling the mission of The Dale Jr. Foundation, which is to help children in need. I am proud to be a part of this and proud to raise money and awareness for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and all the incredible things they are doing for kids.”

At the end of each month, Earnhardt will sign the gloves for auction at his foundation’s eBay store with all of the proceeds going to benefit care and research. The Driven to Give Gloves program has raised more than $100,000 since 2014.

Here are the races each set of gloves will be worn at and the research field and patient they will recognize.

· April – (Martinsville, Texas, Bristol and Richmond) – Blue Gloves (Autism) 10-year-old Tristen Cooper: Tristen was diagnosed with Autism as a toddler and first went to Nationwide Children’s Hospital for eye surgeries. Soon thereafter, Tristen was being followed by the Hospital’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Recently Tristen has also become a patient of Nationwide Children’s Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction, Gastroenterology, and Interventional Radiology. He loves monster trucks and NASCAR and is quite the baseball player, winning a silver medal in the baseball throw at the 2016 Special Olympics Summer Games in Columbus.

· June – (Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma) – Red Gloves (Safety Awareness Month) 5-year-old Ailee Gilliland: After sustaining facial burns at the age of 2, Ailee was taken to the Burn Unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for treatment. She spent a week in the unit and returned for another soon after. In the three years since, Ailee has spent thousands of hours going to outpatient appointments and occupational therapy. She has undergone three plastic surgeries. Today, Ailee is a typical 5-year-old who loves princesses, gymnastics and school. She is a happy, fun-loving girl who can make anyone smile with her silly outgoing personality.
· July – (Daytona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Pocono II) – Pink Gloves (Therapeutic Recreation Awareness) 10-year-old Maddie Delaney: When Maddie was just 2, she underwent a six-hour spinal surgery to release the built-up tension in her legs caused by cerebral palsy. She spent almost an entire month on the inpatient rehabilitation floor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But, through it all, Maddie never gave up and maintained a positive, upbeat attitude. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious and she inevitably brightens the day of everyone she meets. Maddie is currently pursuing her black belt in Tae Kwon Do, will soon start horseback riding lessons, and enjoys swimming, singing and acting.

· November – (Texas II, Phoenix II and Homestead-Miami) – Gray Gloves (Diabetes) 10-year-old John Roger Curry:
At the age of 2, John Roger, who goes by J.R., was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He started out with four shots and at least 10 finger pokes a day – that’s 1,460 shots and 3,650 finger pokes in a year. In the beginning, he had a really rough time adjusting to his condition. But, eventually, he got used to the process and became accustomed to the needles. Recently, J.R. switched to a pump, which gives him a lot more freedom and his parents are able to monitor the readings. J.R. doesn’t let his diabetes stop him from doing what he loves. He plays soccer, baseball, basketball and is even a race car driver.

Looking at top 10 race start totals among active, full-time NASCAR Cup drivers

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Last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, finishing 16th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

That achievement made Earnhardt just the second active driver to the reach the mark, following Matt Kenseth, who has 619 starts after the Auto Club 400.

How do those numbers compare to the rest of their competitors? Who is the next driver that will reach a big start mark?

Here’s a look at the top 10 active full-time Cup drivers when it comes to starts in NASCAR’s premier series:

Matt Kenseth – 619 starts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 600 starts

Kurt Busch – 581 starts (would make 600th start on Aug. 19 in the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway)

Kevin Harvick – 579 starts (would make 600th start on Sept. 9 in Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway)

Ryan Newman – 553 starts

Jimmie Johnson – 548 starts

Jamie McMurray – 515 starts

Kasey Kahne – 473 starts

Kyle Busch – 431 starts

Martin Truex Jr. – 410 starts