Before the helmet goes on: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. provides glimpse into Daytona 500 prep


Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is not one to listen to music to pump himself up before a race.

One, there’s little time between appearances, driver introductions, greeting sponsors and taking photos before the race

Two, unlike other sports where emotion can play a key role in an athlete’s performance, Stenhouse knows he needs to be calm in the car.

“You’ve got to be focused,’’ Stenhouse said. “I like talking to my crew chief right before to talk about our strategy before the race.’’

Last weekend, Stenhouse shared his thoughts, recording for NBC Sports what he was doing and thinking about in the hours leading up to the Daytona 500, a race in which he finished 22nd.

Stenhouse recorded how he was preparing for the season’s biggest race. Here is what he said:

Saturday, Feb. 20

“Just got done watching the Xfinity race … trying to learn as much as I could. The first race that we’ve seen during the day with the hot temperatures. I think I learned a little bit, definitely want to sleep on it and see if we can’t do something tomorrow with that.

“Right now headed to my Fastenal dinner. Generally, I have a sponsor dinner once a weekend at least, sometimes not at all. But the biggest race of the year, a lot of sponsors are in town, so I’ve got a dinner to do tonight with Fastenal, and then we’ll see what happens after the dinner.”

Saturday night  

“It’s about 9:15, just wrapped up dinner with my Fastenal guests and enjoyed some good fish at the Chart House. Headed back to the track and getting ready to call my crew chief Nick Sandler to talk about the strategy for tomorrow and anything else they have in mind of what they saw today during the last practice that we did not run.

“So, go over that with him and probably get back to the bus, and I’ll be watching Supercross, watching, hopefully, Ryan Dungey winning the Supercross race. After that, just get a good night’s sleep. I’m going to try to drink a lot of water tonight. It’s going to be hot tomorrow. So I’ll get a good night’s sleep and get up in the morning ready to go.’’

Saturday night

“I forgot to add while I’m watching Supercross, I’m going to watch some of the USAC races from Ocala (Fla.), some dirt late model from Volusia.

“I like to do that nights before races, it just helps me relax and enjoy racing and what I grew up doing. It kind of takes me back, especially before the Daytona 500, our biggest race of the year.

“You’ve always got to remember where you came from and what got you to this big stage. Came back from dinner and seeing everybody up and partying. To think that they’re here for you and to watch this race that you’re going to be putting on, that’s pretty special.

“It’s our biggest race of the year that we really want to win, really want to have a good showing, get our season kicked off on the right foot. It’s all very humbling, but it’s also a very important race for us.’

Sunday, Feb. 21 (race morning)

“Just got done getting ready. Danica always makes us a good breakfast race day morning. Had bacon, eggs and waffles.

“Getting ready to start my day. Like to get up at least an hour before I have to do my first appearance so that I can hang out, hang out with the dogs and Danica and just kind of a relaxing morning. Getting ready to start my day and head off to appearances and on to the next one and the next one and the next one.

After the drivers meeting

“Just finished up a very long drivers meeting (it lasted 30 minutes), introducing every celebrity, baseball player, politician, president and CEO of every company, which is cool, recognize the people that come to support us and the ones that help support the teams.

“Long drivers meeting, always kind of the same Daytona 500 meeting as far as length of time. Now it’s back in the bus to eat lunch and just relax. Maybe 15, 20 minutes before (driver) intros.

“Got a long race ahead. Been drinking a lot of water, staying hydrating. Nothing else much going on. Just going to relax. Make sure I get relaxed and focused for today’s festivities.

“Big race, mentally draining as far as running three-wide all day. When that happens it tends to run you down a little bit. I’ve got one last call to talk to my spotter, Mike Herman Jr., get a better game plan of what he’s thinking after talking to my crew chief. That’s been our day. Long day. Long morning, but getting ready to get this race underway.

On a golf cart on the way to driver introductions

“Beautiful day out. We’re heading to driver intros. Start 19th, today. We’ll see what happens. The first part of the race just kind of always feel it out.

“My spotter Mike Herman and I just race hard at the beginning. If we get shuffled to the back, we’ll kind of ride it out and race every now and then. Just see how it goes. Hopefully, we can do another video in victory lane.’’

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.