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.
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.
“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.