Friday 5: Amid celebration, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. reflects on path to Daytona 500 win


SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS — At an altitude higher than Mount Everest, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sits comfortably in a leather seat in a CE-680A chartered plane, an enormous Daytona 500 ring on his right hand, a Rolex watch, given to the race winner, on his left wrist and his wife across the aisle.

It is a long way from the late nights on the road going from track to track with his father and later on his own as he sought to make a career driving sprint cars.

In the whirlwind 48 hours since his No. 17 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet crossed the finish line to win the Daytona 500, Stenhouse had been on the go. Now, as the plane returns from Chicago to Concord, North Carolina, Stenhouse has time to reflect upon his journey to winning NASCAR’s biggest race.

“When people climb Mount Everest, they get up there, they take it in,” Stenhouse tells NBC Sports. “You can’t be up there very long, but you take every moment you can. … That’s a big feat. That’s how I feel like this is.”

After receiving his ring, watch, race winner’s jacket and placing his right foot and both hands in wet cement to be permanently displayed among Daytona 500 champions, Stenhouse was off to Disney World on Monday as part of the winner’s promotional tour. 

He returned home that night, got about three hours of sleep and flew the next morning to Chicago for a media tour and the chance to glimpse the street course NASCAR will race there July 1-2. Wednesday, he was at the race shop. Thursday he was in New York City for more appearances and ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square.

Stenhouse could have never imagined doing those things as he sought to follow his dad into racing. Among the memories that stand out to Stenhouse are the times between his dad’s races. One of Stenhouse’s main duties included scraping mud off his dad’s car before the next event.

“I had the most important job,” says Stenhouse, 35, smiling and thinking back to his younger self. “I kept that car so clean. I was filthy by the end of the night, I mean, just dirty head to toe, but the car was clean.”

He thinks about all those nights on the road with his father, going to the next race or returning home. Many of those late-night trips, the youngster slept. Still, traveling with dad to the next race was always special for Stenhouse.

When he started racing, the goal was simply to race sprint cars. As he became more successful, Stenhouse gained attention and was hired by Tony Stewart to drive for his sprint car team in 2007.

“Moving to Indy, racing for Tony … that’s where I really thought I was going to be, racing sprint cars in Indiana, and I was loving it,” Stenhouse says. “2007 was some of the most fun times I had racing. 

“Then all of a sudden, an opportunity comes along you can’t pass up and you end up in NASCAR, and here we are flying around to the racetracks, going on big-time TV shows and big press and representing the biggest motorsport entity in the country. … It’s wild how it all plays out.”

He moved to the ARCA Menards Series in 2008. After one season in stock cars, Stenhouse drove in seven Xfinity races for what was then Roush Fenway Racing. His rookie season in 2010 was known as much for his struggles and wrecking cars as any success, but he overcame that and won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12.

After returning home from Florida on Monday night, Stenhouse pulled out his two Xfinity championship rings to compare with his Daytona 500 ring.

“Man, I thought these were big,” he said he thought to himself, comparing how small the championship rings were to his Daytona 500 ring. 

Still, it’s a nice collection. His Daytona 500 ring will go well with the Harley J. Trophy he earned for winning that race. The original, which takes four to six people to carry, remains at Daytona International Speedway. Stenhouse gets a version of the trophy that comes in a case that one can roll from place to place. It sits in the rear cargo hold of the plane as Stenhouse relishes his accomplishment. 

He might not have experienced all of these events this week had it not been for his dirt racing friends Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, who both later went to Victory Lane to congratulate their friend. 

Larson pushed Stenhouse into the lead on the backstretch just before the caution that set the first of two overtime restarts. 

“I was yelling in my helmet when I helped push him to the lead,” Larson said after the race. “I was hoping it was going to stay green. It would have probably been me or him to win. I’m so happy for him and his team and (crew chief) Mike Kelley. Can’t wait to go get changed go give him a big hug because he is one of my great buddies.”

On the final lap, Larson got a big run. He later said that he wanted to stay committed to Stenhouse and make his move on the backstretch, but the run was so big that Larson moved into the middle to get around Stenhouse. Larson’s run stalled. Bell pushed Stenhouse on the bottom as Joey Logano led the outside line.

The push from Bell put Stenhouse in the lead before the caution came out for a multi-car crash behind him.

That it was friends he was racing in those final laps meant even more to Stenhouse.

“I look at Christopher and Kyle and obviously they have accomplished, other than the Daytona 500, they’ve accomplished, I feel like, more in the Cup Series than I have,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports.

“I feel like I look at them as kids almost. I remember when I was in the Nationwide Series and Cup Series and talking to Kyle and Christopher when they were still running dirt cars. I was kind of a part owner in a dirt car when Christopher was battling for a win. I went and talked to him. He was super shy, didn’t hardly talk at all. I was like, ‘Hey man, you’ll get to where I’m at. No problem.’ Obviously he did.

“I look at that, felt like Tony Stewart kind of did that for me. It was cool that we were all battling for the win. Both played an integral part, Kyle pushing me to the lead, I semi lost the lead on the last lap and Christopher pushed me back to the lead.”

And helped Stenhouse complete this journey into the clouds. 

2. Ending overtime?

Last Sunday’s Daytona 500 marked the fifth time in the last six years that race has gone to overtime. 

Since 2020, eight of 14 speedway-style races have been extended beyond the scheduled distance.

With the sport coming off a season that saw Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch sit out races — Busch says he’s still not ready to return to any form of racing — because of injuries suffered at other tracks, does it make sense to continue to have overtime in speedway-style races at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta?

Fortunately, no Cup driver has been injured in the Daytona 500 since Ryan Newman suffered a head injury during an overtime finish of the race in 2020.

There’s no doubt that it can be deflating for fans to see a race end under caution after the buildup to the checkered flag, particularly for a marquee event such as the Daytona 500. But no one seems upset these days that Dale Earnhardt won his lone Daytona 500 under caution in 1998. 

It’s time to examine if overtime is warranted at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta because of the likelihood of crashes and the possibility of drivers getting hurt.

Eleven of the 17 cars that failed to finish last weekend’s Daytona 500 were eliminated in accidents in overtime. Nineteen of the race’s 40 cars were involved in a crash after the scheduled distance of the race.

No one was injured in those accidents, but it’s easy to forget that there are people in those cars experiencing those hits.

Kyle Larson, eliminated in a crash on the final lap last weekend, called his impact “a huge hit.”

Larson went on to say: “It was definitely one of the bigger (hits) I’ve ever had, but, thankfully, the car held up and all my safety equipment was fine, and I’m fine.”

For Larson to say that incident was among the bigger hits he’s had is something, considering his car flew into the fence at the finish of the 2013 Xfinity race at Daytona. 

Maybe a compromise for those who enjoy overtime is to end it at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta and keep it for the other races. It wouldn’t be unusual to have different rules for different tracks. 

Until this year, drivers were not permitted to choose what lane to restart at Daytona and Talladega, while they could do so at other tracks. Also, NASCAR will not have stage breaks during Cup road course races while keeping the breaks for all other events. 

Bottom line is that NASCAR needs to consider the safety element. Sometimes it’s better to finish a race as scheduled — even if under caution — instead of stretching it beyond its scheduled distance and risk injury to competitors.

3. More data 

Kyle Larson said he wore a mouthguard accelerometer in last weekend’s Daytona 500, marking the first time he’s worn the device in a Cup race.

While an incident data recorder on the vehicle measures the impact of a crash on a car, a mouthguard accelerometer measures the impact of a crash on the driver. 

Although other racing series use accelerometers that are in a driver’s ear, John Patalak, NASCAR vice president, safety engineer says that a mouthguard accelerometer provides better information because the roof of a person’s mouth is “extremely well coupled to your skull.”

NASCAR is working on the mouthguard accelerometer for drivers with Dr. Joel Douglas Stitzel, Jr., a professor of biomedical engineering at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His research interest includes concussion in sports.

Drivers are not required to use the device but more are open to do so as the mouthguard is condensed and there are fewer concerns about it interfering with a driver’s speech while talking to the team on the radio.

“They look more comfortable to wear now,” Larson said of his decision to have it at Daytona. “I never wore the one before but it didn’t look that comfortable.

“I want to see the data and see how it matches up to the car data. I also want to run it in my dirt wrecks to see how those compare to these wrecks.”

4. Study time

Among all the studying Austin Dillon has been doing this season, he’s also reading more at the suggestion of former driver Josh Wise, who trains Chevrolet drivers mentally and physically. 

Dillon said he’s been reading “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth.

“Talent doesn’t always equate to success because it’s just how fast you learn things,” Dillon said. “Grit is sustained over a long period of time and people sticking with things and kind of grinding something out and not giving up on a goal. That word grit, that’s a key word for me this year.”

Dillon finished third at the Clash at the Coliseum and was running toward the front late in the Daytona 500 before he was collected in a crash. The series heads to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Dillon finished second to Kyle Larson in last year’s race there. 

5. Streakin’

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. became the 20th different Cup winner of a points race since last year — when the Next Gen car debuted. 

Among those without a points win in the new car are Brad Keselowski (he did win a Daytona qualifying race last year), Martin Truex Jr. (won this year’s Clash exhibition race) and Ryan Blaney (won last year’s All-Star Race)

Stenhouse broke a streak of seven races in a row with a driver who had previously won with the Next Gen car. The last driver to win their first points race in the Next Gen era was Chris Buescher in last year’s night race at Bristol. 

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.