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In the Draft: Stenhouse had quite a two weeks in Daytona

February 28, 2012, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



In the Draft: Stenhouse had quite a two weeks in Daytona
Stenhouse honored to run in 500, almost went to Victory Lane in Nationwide race

We finally got the 54th Daytona 500 in Monday night and what a wild race. First, I must congratulate Matt Kenseth and the entire No. 17 team on their win, and Jack Roush on getting his 300th NASCAR win. This win shows all the hard work and dedication of our entire organization during the offseason.

After sitting around all day Sunday and then most of the day Monday, I was getting a little stir crazy and was ready to go racing. That was the first time the Daytona 500 has been postponed until Monday in 54 years. That is an incredible record!

"Even though we didn't finish the Daytona 500 where we wanted to, it was still a dream come true."

--RICKY STENHOUSE JR.

My crew chief, Chad Norris, and I discussed our game plan for the start of the race because we felt everyone might be a little excited and a wreck might occur early on in the race. We decided to ride in the back of the lead pack and start our charge to the front with about 40 laps to go. Our No. 6 Ford Ecoboost Fusion was a rocket ship.

The two-hour red-flag delay was killer. After we finally got back racing, I got a strong push from David Gilliland coming off the tri-oval. The momentum forced me up the track slightly which initiated the contact with Joey [Logano] but at the same time Tony [Stewart] was sliding down to take that space and the nose of my Fusion caught him in the left rear and sent us both spinning. Not enough space for all of us. The guys did an awesome job of repairing the car and keeping us on the lead lap. With our battered car, we settled for a 20th-place finish.

On Saturday, we had a strong No. 6 Rice Krispies/Pop-tart Ford Mustang. We were so close to the win, and I thought we were clear of the melee as we were coming to the checkered flag. I saw the No. 20 spinning and sliding down so I moved down and the No. 54 clipped my right rear as he was also trying to avoid the commotion in front of us. We were so close to being in Victory Lane but that is superspeedway racing.

Plate racing is so hard because it is all about luck and avoiding wrecks. There were a few times in the Nationwide race that Denny Hamlin and I, who we drafted with me most of the race, dropped back to the rear of the field because we felt the field was getting aggressive and a wreck was about to happen.

We have had numerous Sprint Cup practices which have allowed me to get more comfortable in the Cup car. We had a great qualifying run which put the No. 6 Ford Ecoboost Fusion in the eighth position which lined us up in the fourth position for the first Gatorade Duel on Thursday. On the last caution, we came down pit road for a splash of fuel which shuffled us back to the ninth position. My crew chief, Chad Norris, wanted to play it safe and not gamble on running out of gas in the middle of the pack so we settled for an 11th-place finish.

The Daytona 500 qualifying and setting of the field is completely different than any other race we attend. Everyone completes two qualifying laps but only the top two positions count. Everybody else is split into two races which are called the Gatorade Duel 150s and that lineup is set by how you qualify. The finishing order of the Gatorade Duel races determines the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. We finished 11th which placed us in the 21st starting position for the 500.

The Fords have looked super strong here as my teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, started on the pole for the 500. Matt Kenseth won the second Gatorade Duel on Thursday which was the first win for his new sponsor, Best Buy, but also the first time Jack Roush had ever won a Duel race. The Fords have been strong because of the efforts of Doug Yates and his team. We have had stout FR-9 engines that have incredible horsepower.

Since being in Daytona, Trevor [Bayne] and I got the opportunity to fly with the Thunderbirds which was amazing. We got it up to 9.4 G's and over 600 mph. Numerous people told me that I would probably get sick, but I am proud to say I did not.

We announced this week that NOS Energy Drink will be on our No. 6 Ford Mustang in the Nationwide Series for three races this year. We are thrilled to have them on board. If you have never tried one you should; they have some great flavors and enhance your performance.

Even though we didn't finish the Daytona 500 where we wanted to, it was still a dream come true and I am very thankful to be given the opportunity to drive Roush's historic No. 6 in my first Daytona 500.

Next week, we go to Phoenix, a track where I have had a lot of success. In my four starts, we have never finished outside the top 10.

Well I drove back to Charlotte after the race Tuesday morning, so I am in much need of some sleep. Make sure you follow me on twitter, @stenhousejr, and Google +. We had two hangouts on Google + so far, so make sure you join so you can participate.

Until next time...later!

In the Draft with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a twice-monthly blog and the opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. Follow him and the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team on Twitter: @stenhousejr, @pr6nns, and @roushfenway.