Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is in his fifth full-time season as a driver for Roush Fenway Racing in what now is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
He’s also the long-time boyfriend of fellow Cup driver Danica Patrick. Currently 19th in the points standings after the first seven races of this season, Stenhouse sat down with a small group of media recently and discussed a variety of topics, including how he is hoping this will be a breakout season for him as he continues to seek his first Cup win.
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Some people still view you as “Danica’s boyfriend” as much as for what you’ve accomplished on the track in the Cup Series. How do you hope to change that perception this year?
Stenhouse: “That’s something we’ve been working on real hard at Roush Fenway Racing. Last year we started the season out pretty decent and then fell off quite a bit – and were never really able to regain the speed that we showed at the beginning of the season. We knew some of the reasons why. We got some of the things taken away that we had that were helping us run better, just with rules changes and things like that.
“So this year we’ve tried to make sure we’re staying on top of it.”
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What specifically is your team working on?
Stenhouse: “Just making sure the guys are bringing better cars to the racetrack every week. Last year there were times when I felt like we were bringing the same cars the track that we had the week before and the few weeks prior to that. The problem with that is that the other teams are bringing better cars to the track every week.
“We’ve got people in place who are looking for downforce and are looking for mechanical grip in our cars every week.”
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Why do you think this year will be different than recent past years?
Stenhouse: “Definitely all the Fords (in the Cup Series) are running real well. I think, for us, we’ve changed really a lot this past offseason. We’ve changed a lot, really, each of the last few offseasons – but now I think we’ve finally got all the pieces in place to make sure we can maintain that speed, maintain that performance. We’ve got a lot more confidence coming to the track every week.”
“I feel like we’ve got some key people in the right places who will help us maintain our speed and performance. I think it feels totally different than it did the last couple of years when we had a good start. I think we’re pretty confident we’re going to get even better going forward.”
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Did you have a conversation with your teammate Trevor Bayne after you got into each other at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year (and also in the Daytona 500)?
Stenhouse: “Trevor and I worked that out real quick. We talked on Monday (after the crash at ACS), and just talked about how things probably could have been different and needed to be different there. We both had cars capable of running about 10th there at Auto Club. I think we were running 12th and 13th or something like that with five laps to go and we both ended up 22nd or 23rd. I think we had a good understanding of what needed to happen there.”
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So it’s all good with Trevor? No hard feelings even though you called him “an idiot” over the team radio?
“Trevor and I have been working together really well this year, sharing a lot of notes and working together in practice to make sure we’re getting the best out of our cars.
“… I wasn’t worried about anything. (Car owner) Jack (Roush) handles all that — even though Jack’s gotten soft in his older age. …. I was really mad that we both ended up crashed (at ACS). I think I was more mad about the finish than anything else. I think people understand … Things happen so fast that your first reaction for some reason is to hit the (team radio) button and talk to somebody. I don’t know why we hit it. It would probably be best if we just didn’t say or if we had a different button to hit where it didn’t actually do anything.”
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Jack’s really gotten soft in his older age?
Stenhouse: “Yeah. Back in the day, he used to yell at me a lot. But he’s calmed down since then.”
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Have you talked with Kyle Busch after your recent incident with him at Martinsville?
Stenhouse: “I haven’t talked to Kyle. Going back to Atlanta earlier this season, I was on the lead lap running about ninth or 10th in Stage 2. He was a lap down and wasn’t having a good race, and he made it really difficult to pass him. I finally did pass him, but I wore my tires out, gave up a spot – and didn’t get any stage points that run.
“So I told me guys over the radio at Atlanta that I was going to remember that, and if I was ever in that position again, I was going to race him just as hard as he raced me. So I didn’t really feel like there was an explanation needed for (what happened at Martinsville). It really paid off for us. … “
What kind of impact did it have on RFR when top drivers like Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth left?
Stenhouse: “I think Matt leaving and Carl leaving, I think it just kind of took a lot of wind out of the sails of everybody in the shop. A lot of the guys at the shop had worked mainly with Matt, Carl and Greg (Biffle, who also stepped away from the organization after last season).
“When one of them left at a time, I think it really slowed us down. The development of the cars wasn’t coming around as quickly as it needed to; the quality of the cars maybe wasn’t where it needed to be.
“But right now I think we’ve got a lot of people in the shop who really support us as drivers there in Cup and XFINITY both, and I think both sides are seeing a benefit from that.”
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How have some personnel changes impacted your team this year?
Stenhouse: “(New crew chief) Brian Pattie and I have hit it off real well. We had a really good relationship even when he was Greg (Biffle’s) crew chief. Things have started off really well communication-wise.
“We switched out pit crews up to start of this year. For us on the 17 team that wasn’t working out very well. At Phoenix we lost a lot of spots on pit road, but gained them back on the racetrack.
“And then you fast-forward a week to California and we had our best pit stops of the year. So they’re getting better every week.”
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Do you think the playoffs are a realistic goal for you this season?
Stenhouse: “I think they are realistic, but it’s definitely going to be tough. Somebody like (Ryan) Newman getting a win at Phoenix takes one of those points spots away that you really weren’t counting on.
“Right now what we’re focused on for us, to make sure we have an opportunity of getting into the playoffs, is stage points. … We’ve been able to get a couple here and there throughout the year so far, but we need to be more consistent at that.”
Any exciting plans for this off weekend?
Stenhouse: “No, not really. We’re just going to hang out. I really don’t like traveling. I mean, I like traveling some – but I like staying home, too. We were out on the West Coast for so long. I’m going to get some stuff done around home.”
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Any pressure to make your recent April’s Fool joke about getting engaged to Danica a reality?
Stenhouse (chuckling): “I wouldn’t say there’s a ton of pressure. But I get it from fans a lot.”
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