Ryan Dungey

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. always in motion whether at home or at track

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For a kid who liked to play in the dirt and later raced on it, the name of his property pays homage to dirt track racing and a move that has gained notoriety in NASCAR in the last week.

Slide Job Ranch.

This is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s home. His sister lives on the property. He has a spot for his parents to live when his mother retires.

Tucked near the woods in one section of the property near Mooresville, North Carolina, is a patch of land where grass grows in sections not run over by dirt bikes. There are mounds for jumping, banked corners and a path through the woods.

For the defending winner of tonight’s Daytona Cup race (7 p.m. ET on NBC), this is his place to relax, shed the pressures of trying to make the playoffs and get dirty.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after winning last July’s Daytona race. (Photo by Getty Images)

Stenhouse’s victory in this race is the last time he’s visited Victory Lane in Cup. He won two races last year, earned a spot in the playoffs and finished 13th in the points.

This season has been more challenging at Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has three top-10 finishes in the first 17 races. He enters tonight’s event 23 points out of a playoff spot. Teammate Trevor Bayne also has struggled. Roush Fenway Racing brought in Matt Kenseth to drive Bayne’s car in select races and help diagnose the team’s woes.

Kenseth has found that organization has much work to do, echoing comments Stenhouse has made throughout the season.

Stenhouse’s frustration grew during last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. He told his team on the radio: “It’s almost like we’re designing these cars to see how slow we can run.”

Stenhouse recovered to finish 16th. It was his best finish in the last three races.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” Stenhouse said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. 

“We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.  I think last week I got a little frustrated hearing other teams bringing new cars to the track and kind of seeing their performance have an uptick and then some of those cars we’re racing to get it the playoffs, so that’s kind of where the frustration comes in. 

“We got a better finish out of it than I thought, but we’re working hard. We’ve got some things in the works, it’s just not here right now. That’s a bummer. We’re hoping that we can get some new stuff soon.”

After days like those, time on his dirt bike can help him push such performances in the past.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at his dirt track. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Building this track and just drawing it on a piece of paper and then kind of trying to make it come to life out here was pretty fun,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports on a warm May day as he leaned against one of his bikes before joining Ryan Blaney on the course.

It takes him back to his youth. Stenhouse got his first dirt bike when he was 4 years old. His father had grown up riding dirt bikes.

“It was what we did when we weren’t racing,” Stenhouse said. “Sundays after church we would always go dirt bike riding with a group.”

Stenhouse’s path went in a different direction when he was 5 years old. His dad took him to a dirt go-kart track. Stenhouse spent half the day riding his dirt bike and the other half in a go-kart.

He was racing go-karts at age 6.

“I don’t know why I chose the go-kart,” Stenhouse said. “I guess for maybe one thing watching my dad race sprint cars. I knew that go-karts would probably lead more to that direction. To me sprint cars are probably the purest form of racing there is and something I’ll always love going to.”

Even so, dirt bikes have always remained something Stenhouse enjoyed.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of Jeremy McGrath,” Stenhouse said of the seven-time AMA Supercross champion. “Obviously, he was dominating every race at the time and then when I really got into the sport and met people, I became a huge fan of Ryan Dungey. He’s a big supporter of us and NASCAR and comes out to a lot of races. I just really admired how he went about racing and what he does on and off the track.”

While Stenhouse enjoys dirt bikes, he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on racing cars.

“I’m glad I choose the direction that I did because I want to be able to race for a long time and dirt bike careers are fairly short,” Stenhouse said.

Now, he can run his dirt bikes whenever he wants at the Slide Job Ranch.

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NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Supercross champ Ryan Dungey share a strong bond and a love of dirt bikes

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Wearing a Red Bull-branded fleece and a pair of red and white Target gloves, a racing superstar inconspicuously wandered the garage Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Ryan Dungey, a multitime champion in Supercross and motocross, was a guest of six-time Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson, watching practice and qualifying in NASCAR’s premier series.

Dungey and the Supercross series will return the favor Saturday night as a delegation of roughly 20 NASCAR drivers and their entourages were scheduled to attend the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at the Georgia Dome, the ninth round in a 16-race schedule.

“I think (Supercross promoter) Feld (Entertainment) has their hands full with tickets and VIP stuff for NASCAR, but they’ve got a whole suite blocked off,” Dungey told NASCAR Talk. “It’s cool it falls on the same weekend so they can check out our sport, and we can check out theirs. It’s always conflicting.”

Johnson, whose racing career began on dirt bikes before moving to four wheels, still has been a Supercross attendee during the NASCAR season, flying to events at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He raced motocross until he was 14 and still maintains many friendships in the sport with current riders such as Dungey, Chad Reed and Justin Brayton and managers Rick Johnson (who was instrumental in fostering Jimmie Johnson’s love of racing), Jeff Ward and Johnny O’Mara.

“I grew up on two wheels and just love that sport,” Jimmie Johnson told NASCAR Talk. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the line for the gate dropping, but there’s an old saying in motocross, ‘It’s not if you fall, it’s when.’ I got so busted up when I was little, I firmly believe in that saying.”

Johnson, 39, did keep a bike around the house for occasionally riding a decade ago until NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick spotted it.

“Mr. Hendrick stopped by my house and saw the bike in the garage and didn’t say anything on the way in, so I thought I got away with it,” Johnson said with a laugh. “On the way out, he asked whose bike it was. I said, ‘A friend’s.’ He looked at me with a very interesting expression, ‘Your friend parks his bike in your garage? Get rid of it.’ ”

Johnson hoped to bring his 4-year-old daughter, Genevieve, who has begun watching Saturday night Supercross with her dad, to the Georgia Dome.

“Pretty much the whole (NASCAR) garage is going,” he said.

That includes Ganassi drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, who shares a sponsor (Target) with Dungey, 25. The pair spent some of Friday hanging out at Atlanta with Dungey’s wife, Lindsay, and his father, Troy.

Dungey’s friendship with Johnson began a few years ago after realizing the Hendrick Motorsports driver was following him on Twitter.

“The first time I talked to him was through Twitter,” said Dungey, who also is a fitness nut. “I was like, dude, man, I couldn’t believe he followed me, actually. We were able to share our contact (information), and we’ve just been checking in with one another since. We don’t get to see each other much, but I really look up to the guy and what he’s done with his career and how driven he still is to this day.

“With all of his down time, he’s into cycling, triathlons, swimming, and with his foundation. I just really appreciate the driver he is and the athlete he is. It’s inspiring for me.”

Dungey, who leads the 450 class points standings with his KTM factory team and finished second at Atlanta last week, has tested a Late Model at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway but has no plans to race cars.

“I’m just trying it out,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. Motocross is my thing. That’s what I’m sticking to. It’s cool I got to experience it and see their world for a day a little bit. But I’m not ready at the speeds they’re going.

“You can’t lose focus on your sport. I’ve got to remember what a great position I’ve been put in with motocross. To be able to come here and see this, it adds to that motivation and inspiration of what I do to be better and better.”