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February 25, 2023

Daytona 500 champ Stenhouse Jr. taking on winless mindset for regular season


ricky stenhouse jr arrives with guest
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FONTANA, Calif. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway in the same place he finished last Sunday’s Daytona 500 – at the front of the field.

The No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet driver and reigning “Great American Race” champion will start alongside pole starter Christopher Bell in Sunday’s final race at the 2-mile facility in Southern California (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) after practice and qualifying were canceled Saturday with heavy rain pelting the track. The Mississippi native will look to make it two wins in a row but enters the weekend with an alternative mindset – that he’s still winless.

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“I think, you know, for us as a team we met and we want to run the next 25 races before the playoffs like we don’t have a win,” Stenhouse said Saturday in a video conference with reporters. “We want to average a 14th, 15th place finish (the rest of the regular season). We know that that generally puts you in a good position to make the playoffs based on points over the last few years. And then obviously another win would be, you know, nice to have in your pocket.”

As the only driver provisionally locked into the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Stenhouse and Co. could theoretically spend the next 25 races fortifying their plan to capitalize on his first tentative postseason appearance since 2017. As a single-car operation with coffers that don’t quite go as deep as some of the bigger, four-car teams, however, JTG realizes that its best shot is to keep its foot on the gas, so to speak, and not just run out the clock on the regular season – there are still insights to be learned and trophies to strive for.

“I do feel like there’s race tracks that we’re still capable of winning on, especially with the things that we’ve learned this offseason, the extra support that we’ve gotten from Chevy and our alliance with Hendrick, there’s some really good race tracks for us that we feel like if we were just a little bit better last year then we could have pulled off a win. So we still feel like we can win again. But you know, we definitely feel like we need to average kind of like that 15th-place-finish over the next 25 races.”

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It’s likely a wise strategy, as the series nearly saw 20 different winners a season ago and it’s very much in the realm of possibility too many unique winners could squeeze Stenhouse out of postseason contention if his points are lacking. For comparison’s sake, ’17 stands as Stenhouse’s best year to date – with not one, but two wins that year – and he averaged a 17.1 finish across the full season while landing 13th in points.

Still, there’s something to be said about the mojo that comes along with winning the Daytona 500 and at least starting out ahead of everyone else. Don’t go mistaking this as any sort of false confidence, however – it’s been earned through countless hours of dedication and grit. It just finally paid off.

“Yeah, I mean, my confidence is definitely higher right now. Anytime you come off of a win, especially the beginning of the season, is always nice. Try and carry that momentum on,” said Stenhouse, who picked up his second career Fontana top 10 in last year’s race. “For me, it’s confidence in myself that hey, you stuck it out. You kept pushing hard and showed up to the race track, putting your hours in the gym, putting in your hours studying data, you know, rewatching races and then obviously, feeling like we assembled the right group of people around us and here at JTG Daugherty Racing. So, confidence that you know we got things going in the right direction.”

We’ll get back to racing soon enough, and Stenhouse will have his chance to show this wasn’t just a fluke superspeedway win – the No. 47 has a legitimate shot at multiple race wins this year and won’t just be happy to be there come playoff time. For now, even though he and the team are choosing to view last weekend for the life-making moment it was and not necessarily the playoff implications that come along with it, Stenhouse has spent the last week soaking in the limelight of being heralded as the sport’s 500 champion.

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“I think the coolest thing is just being able to represent our sport all week, all over the country and you know, I take pride in that. I don’t take that lightly,” Stenhouse said. “Going to Chicago … to the Field Museum or the Children’s Hospital, to opening NASDAQ and ringing the bell. I mean, I take that all very seriously and they wanted to promote our race team, our partners at Kroger you know, and then obviously, all of NASCAR and I think that’s just been the coolest thing is being able to celebrate this win all week long.”

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