Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR CONCORD, NC – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2011, but he got his money’s worth in his debut at NASCAR’s highest level.
Driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford for the only time in his career, Stenhouse completed all 402 laps of a Coca-Cola 600 that went overtime.
“Don’t do what I did,” Stenhouse said of his first foray with NASCAR’s elite. “My first start was in the 600. I hit the wall of Lap 9. We qualified ninth. I hit the wall I think two more times after that. But it ended up, the way everything worked out, we ended up finishing 11th.
“I had a really fast car, but you’ve got to be patient. I think this race… I’ve been good during the day and struggled at night. I’ve had cars where you kind of stay the same throughout the whole night. I do think that, with this (2019) package, you’re going to have a lot of comers and goers when the temperature changes and the sun goes down.”
Stenhouse believes last Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race may be a good predictor of what happens in the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I felt like my car, during the day in practice (for the All-Star race), was driving really good and had OK speed,” Stenhouse said. “But once it cooled off, everybody else’s car started driving better, and the ones with more speed prevailed, so we struggled when the sun went down.
“So we brought a little bit different package here (for the 600) versus the ideas that we had going into the All-Star Race.”
Even though Stenhouse’s first Cup start came in NASCAR’s longest race, he doesn’t view the grind of 600 miles as a negative.
“It wasn’t hard to begin with,” he said. “It’s just more laps. I put a ton of training in anyway. Even when I didn’t put a ton of training in, I felt prepared. Hydration is key, and I feel like everybody in the garage is a lot smarter than they used to be when it comes to hydration. That’s the key.”
FOR KYLE LARSON, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TROPHY, NOT THE MONEY
Last Saturday night, after transferring from the Monster Energy Open, Kyle Larson held off Kevin Harvick to win $1 million in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On Wednesday night at Millbridge Speedway near Salisbury, N.C., Larson wheeled an Outlaw Kart to victory in the 51-lap main event and collected a total of $6,401, including lap money.
But for Larson, it’s not about the cash.
“I was born a race car driver, so that’s really all I ever think about, especially this time of year when I have a lot of race to look forward to,” Larson said. “I would like to race a car every day if I could.”
“I’d race for 500 bucks. I felt like I had to race even harder to win that race last night (at Millbridge). It feels just as good. Especially, last night felt really good with all the issues that I had throughout the night with my kart and engine and wing and pipe and all of it. To get the win was really cool.”
The All-Star race win, however, may mean more in the overall scheme of things. It was a welcome boost for a driver who has endured a skein of hard luck in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this year.
“Winning always helps confidence,” Larson said. “And even with the struggles we’ve had this year, I haven’t really felt like I’ve lost confidence in being able to run good. It’s been bad luck that’s made us have bad finishes, not us running around 25th.
“I feel like we’re always running around the top 10 when we have our issues. I feel like we’ve always been pretty close, so to get that win last week was sweet. I hope it can help the momentum and confidence.”
DRIVER SHANE LEE TO HEADLINE NEW NASCAR XFINITY SERIES TEAM
Shane Lee proved his mettle in 13 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts with Richard Childress Racing last year, posting three top 10s and best finish of fourth at Kansas Speedway.
With the advent of H2 Motorsports, headed by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Matt Hurley, Lee will make his 2019 debut in the No. 28 Toyota Supra at Iowa Speedway in mid-June and continue in the car throughout the balance of the season.
Former Furniture Row Racing competition director Pete Rondeau will serve as Lee’s crew chief. Circuit City will sponsor the car.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Lee said during Thursday’s announcement of the new venture at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It’s a great opportunity for me. I met Matt at a couple of races last year, and we talked about a racing deal.
“Probably about January, he talked about wanting to get into racing, and we just sort of went from there. He went down the line and hired some really good people. We got the sponsorship from Circuit City, and then with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) coming on board, it gave us credibility.”