SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS – At a height higher than Mount Everest,Ricky Stenhouse jr.sits comfortably in a leather seat on a CE-680A charter plane, a giant 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's a long way from the long nights on the road, traveling from track to track with his father and later alone as he tried to make a career of driving sprint cars.
In the hurricane 48 hours since his No. 17 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet crossedthe finish line to win the Daytona 500, Stenhouse had been on the way. Now that the plane is returning to Concord, North Carolina from Chicago, Stenhouse has time to reflect on his journey to victory in NASCAR's greatest race.
"When people climb Mount Everest, they get up there and take it in," Stenhouse told NBC Sports. "You can't be up there very long, but you're taking every moment you can. ... That is a great achievement. That's how I feel.”
After Stenhouse received his ring, watch and race winner's jacket and stuck his right foot and both hands in wet cement for permanent display among the Daytona 500 champions, Stenhouse traveled to Disney on Monday as part of the winner's promotional tour World.
He returned home that night, got about three hours of sleep, and flew to Chicago the next morning for a media tour and a chance to take a look at the street course NASCAR will race there July 1-2. Wednesday he was in the race shop. On Thursday he was in New York City for more performances and rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square.
Stenhouse never imagined doing these things when he was trying to follow his father into racing. Among the memories that Stenhouse particularly highlights are the times between his father's races. One of Stenhouse's main duties was scraping mud off his father's car before the next event.
"I had the most important job," says Stenhouse, 35, smiling, thinking back to his younger self. “I kept the car so clean. At the end of the night I was dirty, I mean dirty from head to toe, but the car was clean.”
He thinks about all the nights he was out with his father, going to the next race or returning home. On many of these nocturnal journeys the boy slept. Still, traveling with dad to the next race was always special for Stenhouse.
When he first started racing, the goal was simply to drive sprint cars. As he became more successful, Stenhouse gained attention and was hired by Tony Stewart in 2007 to drive for his sprint car team.
"Moving to Indy, racing for Tony... that's where I really thought I was going to race sprint cars in Indiana, and I waslovingit,” says Stenhouse. “2007 was one of the funnest times I've had racing.
“Then suddenly there's an opportunity that you can't pass up and you end up in NASCAR, and here we fly to the circuits, appear on big TV shows and big press, and represent the largest motorsports entity in the country. ... It's wild how everything is developing."
In 2008 he moved to the ARCA Menards Series. After a season in stock cars, Stenhouse drove seven Xfinity races for what was then Roush Fenway Racing. His 2010 rookie season was as well known for its struggles and wrecked cars as it was for any success, but he overcame that and won Xfinity titles in 2011 and 2012.
After Stenhouse returned home from Florida Monday night, he pulled out his two Xfinity championship rings to compare to his Daytona 500 ring.
"Man, I thought those were big," he said 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 can be carried by four to six people, remains at Daytona International Speedway. Stenhouse receives a version of the trophy that comes in a case that you can wheel from place to place. It is located in the plane's rear cargo hold while Stenhouse enjoys its performance.
If it wasn't for his dirt racing buddies, he might not have seen all of these events this weekKyle LarsonAndChristoph Bell, both of whom later went to Victory Lane to congratulate their friend.
Larson pushed Stenhouse ahead on the backstretch just before the caution that set off the first of two overtime restarts.
"I was screaming in my helmet as I was helping him get him to the front," Larson said after the race. "I was hoping it would stay green. I or he would probably have won. I'm really happy for him and his team and (Crew Chief) Mike Kelley. I can't wait to get changed and give him a big hug because he's one of my awesome buddies."
On the final lap, Larson got a big run. He later said he wanted to remain committed to Stenhouse and move to the opposite stretch, but the run was so great that Larson went in the middle to bypass Stenhouse. Larson's run faltered. Bell pinned Stenhouse to the floorJoey Loganoled the outside line.
Bell's jab gave Stenhouse the lead before the warning for a multi-car crash behind him was issued.
The fact that it was friends he was riding with on those final laps meant even more to Stenhouse.
"I look at Christopher and Kyle and obviously, apart from the Daytona 500, they've accomplished more in the Cup Series than I have," Stenhouse told NBC Sports.
"I feel like I almost look at them like children. I remember being in the Nationwide Series and Cup Series and talking to Kyle and Christopher when they were racing dirt cars. I was sort of a parts owner in a dirt car when Christopher was fighting for a win. I went and spoke to him. He was super shy, hardly spoke. I said, 'Hey man, you're gonna get where I am. No problem.” Apparently he did.
"Looking at that, I felt like Tony Stewart kind of did that for me. It was cool that we all fought for the win. Both played important roles, Kyle pushed me to the front, I lost half the lead on the last lap and Christopher pushed me back to the front.”
And helped Stenhouse complete this journey into the clouds.
2. End overtime?
Last Sunday's Daytona 500 marked the fifth time in the past six years that the race had gone into overtime.
Since 2020, eight out of 14 speedway-style races have been extended beyond the planned distance.
With the sport that has had a season that sawAlex BowmannAndKurt Buschsuspend race —Busch says he's still not ready to return to any form of racing- Due to injuries at other tracks, does it make sense to continue to work overtime at speedways in Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta?
Fortunately, no Cup driver has been injured at the Daytona 500 since thenRyan Newmannsuffered a head injury during an overtime race in 2020.
Since the#NascarThe overtime era began in 2004, there were only six "real" Daytona 500s.
There were 12 years when the distance of the Great American Race exceeded 500 miles.
The 2023 Daytona 500 set a record 530 miles and was the fifth overtime in six years.pic.twitter.com/KGj9PtFUXp
– Nate Ryan (@nateryan)February 21, 2023
There's no doubt that it can be disappointing for fans to see a race finish under caution after the checkered flag has been set up, especially at a marquee event like the Daytona 500. But nobody seems to be upset these daysDale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500 under caution in 1998.
It's time to examine whether overtime is justified in Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta because of the likelihood of accidents and the possibility of drivers being injured.
Eleven of the 17 cars that failed to finish last weekend's Daytona 500 were eliminated through overtime accidents. Nineteen of the 40 cars in the race were involved in an accident past the scheduled race distance.
Nobody was hurt in these accidents, but it's easy to forget that there are people in these cars who have been hit.
Kyle Larson, who was eliminated in a last-lap crash last weekend, called his impact "a huge success."
Larson continued, "It was definitely one of the bigger [hits] I've ever had, but luckily the car held up and all my safety gear was fine and I'm fine."
Daytona 500 lengths since GWC policy was introduced in the Cup (July 2004):
2023: 530 miles
2009: 380 (Regen)
– Nate Ryan (@nateryan)February 21, 2023
For Larson to say this incident was among the bigger hits he's had is something considering his car flew into the fence at the end of the 2013 Xfinity race at Daytona.
Perhaps a compromise for those who enjoy overtime is to finish it at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta and save it for the other races. It would not be unusual to have different rules for different tracks.
Until this yearDrivers were not allowed to choose which track 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 raceswhile maintaining the breaks for all other events.
The bottom line is that NASCAR needs to consider the safety element. Sometimes it's better to finish a race as planned - even if it's cautious - than to extend it beyond the planned distance and risk injuring your competitors.
3. More data
Kyle Larson said he wore a mouthguard accelerometer at last weekend's Daytona 500, marking the first time he's worn the device in a cup race.
While an on-vehicle accident recorder measures the impact of an accident on a car, a mouthguard accelerometer measures the impact of an accident on the driver.
Though other racing series use accelerometers located in a driver's ear, John Patalak, NASCAR vice president and safety engineer, says a mouthguard accelerometer provides better information because a person's palate is "extremely well coupled to their skull."
NASCAR is collaborating on driver's mouthguard accelerometerdr Joel Douglas Stitzel, Jr., professor of biomedical engineeringat Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His research interest is concussion in sport.
Riders don't have to use the device, but more are open to it as the mouthguard is compacted and there's less concern that it will interfere with a rider's speech while talking to the team over the radio.
"They look more comfortable now," Larson said of his decision to have them at Daytona. "I've never worn this before, but it didn't look that comfortable.
“I want to see the data and see how it matches the vehicle data. I also want to run it in my dirt wrecks to see how they compare to these wrecks.”
4. Study time
Among all the learnersAustin Dillondone this season, he also reads more at the suggestion of former driver Josh Wise, who coaches Chevrolet drivers mentally and physically.
Dillon said he read Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
"Talent doesn't always equal success because it's all about how quickly you learn things," said Dillon. “Grit is sustained over a long period of time and people stick with things and hone things in and don't give up on a goal. That word grit is a keyword for me this year.”
Dillon finished third at the Clash at the Coliseum and ran forward late in the Daytona 500 before being caught in a crash. The series heads to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Dillon finished second to Kyle Larson in last year's race there.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. became the 20th different cup winner of a points race since last year - when the next-generation car debuted.
Among them are those without gaining points in the new carBrad Keselowski(he won a qualifying race at Daytona last year),Martin Truex jr.(won this year's Clash exhibition race) andRyan Blaney(won All-Star Race last year)
Stenhouse broke a seven-race streak with a driver who had previously won in the next-gen car. The last driver to win his first points race of the next-gen era wasChris Buescherat last year's Bristol night race.