Ricky Stenhouse Jr. registered his first NASCAR championship today in only his second full season.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series title is the third for Ford Racing and Roush Fenway Racing (Greg Biffle in 2002 and Carl Edwards in 2007).
This marks 12th driver’s championship for Ford Racing in NASCAR’s top three divisions combined (8 NSCS, 3 NNS, 1 NCWTS) and the sixth overall for Roush Fenway Racing (2 NSCS, 3NNS, 1 NCWTS).
Today also capped an impressive season for Mustang, which won a manufacturer and driver championships in its rookie NASCAR season. In addition, Mustang won 13 NASCAR Nationwide Series races, which is the most for any model in 2011.
Greg Biffle became the first driver in NASCAR history to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. Biffle captured the 2002 NNS title in dominant fashion as he posted a series-best 25 top
10 and 20 top-5 finishes in 34 starts. In addition, he tied for first with poles (5) and wins (4), but his consistency throughout led to a 264-point victory for the championship over second-place Jason Keller.
Carl Edwards won his first NASCAR championship in even more dominating fashion than Biffle as he claimed the championship by 618 points over runner-up David Reutimann. Edwards led the series with 21 top-10 finishes while tying for most top-5 efforts with 15 in 35 starts. He swept both races at Nashville for two of his four wins on the season with the other two coming at Bristol and Dover. Edwards was in charge of the points race pretty much the entire season, taking the lead after a fourth-place finish on the Mexico City road course in the third event of the year and never giving it up.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in only his second full season of competition through consistency. He led the point standings for 17 weeks, including the final 14, and won the first two races of his career as he swept both events at Iowa Speedway. Stenhouse Jr. battled Elliott Sadler the final month of the season, but came out on top by virtue of six top-5 and nine top-10 finishes over the final nine races.
FORD’S NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES CHAMPIONS
2002 — Greg Biffle
2007 — Carl Edwards
2011 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
FORD 300 FINISHING RESULTS
2nd – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
3rd – Carl Edwards
11th – Trevor Bayne
21st – Timmy Hill
27th – Casey Roderick
36th – Andrew Ranger
42nd – Fain Skinner
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – No. 6 Blackwell Angus/Cargill Ford Mustang – CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW – WHAT ABOUT THE LAST TWO OR THREE LAPS? “We sure tried. That was all I had. I was really hoping for one more lap there, but Brad did a good job. It was fun racing Carl and those guys. I got a little loose there coming off four or I thought we could have got him, but the Blackwell Angus Beef and Cargill Mustang did its job at Ford Championship Weekend – Nationwide Insurance – this is a dream come true.”
WHAT A CINDERELLA STORY. WHAT MADE IT HAPPEN FOR YOU? “I think first off is just relying on God. We were down in the dumps and we relied on Him and He pulled us through. That’s why we have to give him the praise for the nights that we’re on top. It was just a lot of hard work by all these guys – Jack Roush, Ford Racing, everybody at Blackwell Angus Beef and Cargill – this crew right here, they didn’t give up on me. They were with us all through last year and I’m just glad to be here.”
ONE HERO IS JEFF GORDON AND THE OTHER IS YOUR DAD. WHAT DOES THIS DAY MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR DAD? “It means a lot. My family sacrificed everything they had. My sister didn’t quite get everything that she’s ever wanted. We were racing as much as we could and to do that for them, he taught me hard work and to never give up. I wish my granddad was here. He helped us out a lot through the go-kart days and worked on our cars. We had a lot of fun doing that. I wish he was here, but this is an awesome night.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR NIGHT “This is just awesome what this team has done, what Jack Roush has done and everybody at Ford Racing and Nationwide Insurance for giving us this great series to run in and all the fans that come out to watch every week. We really appreciate that, especially the ones that support us.”
HOW GOOD WAS THIS RACE CAR TONIGHT? “Man, this race car was awesome. It was a little tight at the beginning but we worked on it. We knocked the wall down in three and four but it seemed to maybe help it a little bit. Mike Kelly did an awesome job and we had awesome pit stops.
Everybody on this Blackwell Angus Beef and Cargill Mustang worked their butts off. We had a late race charge there. I didn’t want to see that caution when we were leading but those always come out it seems like. That last restart I was giving it all I had. If I could have got a little better restart and not lost as much ground to Carl and Brad I think we could have had it. It was a great race, fun hopefully the fans enjoyed it. We do this for them.”
GO BACK A YEAR OR SO AGO AND JACK GIVES YOU A CALL TO DRIVE THE NATIONWIDE SERIES. YOU HAD PROBLEMS KEEPING THE CAR OFF THE WALL. HE PUT YOU TO WORK REBUILDING THE CARS. WHAT KIND OF LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM JACK ROUSH? “The same lessons I learned from my Dad. He just helped me remember them. You have to work hard, stay focused and be patient and determined. Jack has his way of doing things and it has definitely worked out.”
JAMIE ALLISON, Director, Ford Racing – “Wow. What a great moment. Unbelievable to have this championship. It is what we all race for and is a proud moment for Ford and Ford fans everywhere. We got one championship tonight and we have one more to go tomorrow.”
CARL EDWARDS – No. 60 Fastenal Ford Mustang – PIT ROAD INTERVIEW “First, congrats to Ricky. That’s huge for Ricky to win the driver’s championship. I’m so proud of my guys. Fastenal, Ford, Valvoline, NextGen oil, Wiley X, all the fans that came out here. It’s a great weekend for Ford. I’m proud to be driving a Ford. I wanted to get Brad there at the end. We were racing hard and I got up on his bumper there and I was hoping he’d get loose, but I got tight. He did a really good job driving. It was just fun racing. This is really neat and Denny raced me so clean.
That was a ton of fun.” RICKY GOT YOU AS WELL. “That was funny. I thought I finished second. Ricky got me too, but he deserves it. He’s a great guy and it was just a fun race. I’m excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow in that Aflac Ford is gonna be a blast.” TAKE US THROUGH TONIGHT. “First, congratulations to Ricky and all the Blackwell Angus Beef folks. Ricky has come so far and I think he’s gonna be a champion in a bunch of levels of this sport.
That was huge and my guys have done a great job all year – eight wins and we’re so proud to have Fastenal on board. Ford has been great. It’s Ford Championship Weekend and we wrapped up the drivers and the owners and that was huge. Valvoline and NextGen, Wiley X and all these fans that are here, this is cool. It did get pretty exciting there at the end.
I had to remember, ‘Hey, don’t screw this up,’ and Brad started blocking a little bit and I thought, ‘Well, if he’s gonna block, I’m gonna bump him,’ and then I bumped him and it helped him and hurt me. I didn’t do a good job of that, but he did a great job racing. I thought everybody raced as aggressively as I’ve seen in a long time and everybody was real respectful. It was really fun.”
TREVOR BAYNE – No. 16 Ford Mustang Ford – “Well, we had a really fast race car, we just had one run where we missed it a little bit. Everyone moved to my lane and we were so fast at the top but everyone saw that and they all moved up in front of me and I had nowhere to gain on them.
We were just average at the end there. We lost a right rear tire and it got us in the wall. I don’t know if it went down first or getting in the wall took it down. It is disappointing because I wanted to be out there with him doing so me burnouts.
Next year hopefully we can be out there. I am really pumped for Ricky and Carl. To win championships is a big deal. It shows consistency and it shows you can be there all the time. They were fast. It is a tough series and for them to win is huge especially for Ricky. This is an awesome deal for him.
I am really excited for him. YOU’VE GOT THE 500, HE’S GOT THE NATIONWIDE TITLE. WHO HAS THE TRUMP CARD? “I don’t know man. I don’t know if you can compare apples and oranges, that is kinda what that is. I am just excited for both of us to have seasons like this and I am really proud to be a part of this Roush Fenway group.”
TIMMY HILL, 2001 SUNOCO NATIONWIDE SERIES ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – I AM TOLD IT CAME DOWN TO YOU AND BLAKE AND WHOEVER HAD HIGHEST FINISH IN TODAY’S RACE WOULD BE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND YOU PREVAILED. “Between me and Blake throughout the entire season we have been within one or two spots of each other. It has been a tough battle.
We have about the same equipment and drive underfunded teams which makes it tougher but we had an exciting battle through the whole season. We were tied up going into this race so the one point is what decided the race and we were able to pull off the 21st place finish tonight and it is real good for our team and I am excited about it.”
WHAT DOES ACCOMPLISHING THIS TODAY MEAN FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM? “You know, for myself this is huge on the resume. This is something I really looked forward to doing. You can look and Ricky Stenhouse was the past Rookie of the Year and he won the next championship. It gives you something to look up for.
For the team, this is something we pulled together for the whole year to accomplish. We had bad times and good times but through all that we pulled together. It feels good that you can accomplish something at this altitude that is incredible to do.”
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO GET WITH YOUR DAD AFTER THE RACE AND THROUGH HIS CAREER HOW MUCH WERE YOU AROUND? “I did, I gave my Dad a huge hug after the race. He gives me advice all the time.
He was here for all but three races and I was glad that he could be there the whole season and experience it with me. Growing up I would go to my Dad’s races and always bug him to start racing myself. Finally when I was nine he let me drive a go kart and that is how my career started. As soon as I started he quit so he could help us and I can only thank him so much for helping me out through my entire career.”
HOW MUCH DID YOU THINK YOU HAD A CHANCE AT THIS AWARD AT THE START OF THE YEAR AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THE MOST? “At the start of the season I knew the five rookies going in would be tough with Ryan Truex and Blake Cook. Those are the two it came down to with myself and the other two.
Honestly I had no idea. I just wanted to have a chance at the end of the season to be there. Before this I only had 10 starts in a full sized stock car and it was kind of nerve wracking. I had to miss the first race of the season because I wasn’t old enough. Phoenix was my first race and I hit practice and found out pretty quick it was going to be pretty tough. We weren’t as fast as we wanted to be.
Each race we got better and better and after each race we would click off Rookie of the Race and my chance at getting the Rookie of the Year seemed to get better and better. I think we ended up leading that battle for 27 weeks straight which is incredible and it came down to being tied up and being able to win by one point. At the beginning of the season I had no idea. I just wanted to have a chance. By the middle of the season I thought we had a good chance and here we are. I got it.”
WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR? “You know, we have already settled out that we are going to run the 15 car again and Point.com, they came on board the last 10 races of the season and they will be the primary sponsor for us. They are a great company and we are teaming up with Lilly Trucking and it looks like the full schedule for us next year. Hopefully we can back up what Ricky Stenhouse did and be the next champion. That would be a good thing to try to do.”
CARL EDWARDS PRESS CONFERENCE – “It was huge for us. That 18 team, they’ve been unbelievable and for us to have closed in all the points we did the last couple of months, I think it was 50 or so points – something like that – my guys are very excited about this. That was our mission tonight to be that 18 and to win this owner’s championship.
I just can’t say enough things about Jack Roush and Ford and everything they’ve done with this Nationwide program. Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne have been huge helps to me as a driver. They’ve obviously been amazing on the race track and I’m so happy for Ricky for his accomplishment and for us to have won that owner’s championship makes it really neat for all the guys back at the shop and it’s something they can be proud of, so that was good.
The race was a blast. That was just really fun. There at the end I learned a little bit about the different lines on the restarts and things like that. Brad did a really good job. He blocked for everything he had. I bumped him, but not hard enough, and I got tight and then Ricky got by me.
I thought Ricky might get him. I don’t know about you guys, but coming into turn three that last lap I thought, ‘Maybe these guys will bump into each other and we’ll still win this thing,’ so I don’t know if it looked that exciting from the grandstands or TV, but it was real exciting for me and that’s a good way to spend a Saturday night before tomorrow’s race. It was a blast.”
IS THIS BITTERSWEET FOR YOU AS A FULL-TIME NATIONWIDE DRIVER? “Mike Beam and all the guys on this Fastenal team, I think it’s eight races we won this year, we got more poles than anyone, we led close to 2,000 laps. It’s been a blast. It’s really fun and I’m gonna miss it a lot.
I’ll probably run some races. There’s no telling, I might run again full-time here in a year or two, who knows? I really do enjoy this and years like this are a lot of fun and it’s from a lot of hard work. We were not this fast a year-and-a-half ago or so when we were really struggling. They had to really go to work on the engines and the cars and moving the shop, so it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been something I think has helped me in huge ways to be in the place we’re in in the Cup Series.”
DID THIS FULFILL YOU HOPE FOR A PROPER PREPARATION FOR TOMORROW? “Yes. This was very good practice for me. It was really good practice, especially there was one point where the 18 was in front of us and I had to really bear down and go for it there on those restarts.
That was neat. We also made a lot of adjustments on the car. I got to feel adjustments and feel the track change a little bit as the sun went down, and I was reminded of all the things you have to be careful of not to mess up, so I think it’s great practice. I didn’t hurt myself or break an arm or anything, so that was good. I had a good time. I actually did think about, ‘If I win this thing should I do a backflip or not?’ That would be unreal.”
WHEN RICKY DIDN’T MAKE THE RACE AT NASHVILLE LAST YEAR DID YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS ABOUT HIS ABILITY OR HIS ABILITY TO SURVIVE WHATEVER JACK HAD IN STORE FOR HIM? “I didn’t know if he’d be able to survive Jack. I mean, Jack was on Ricky. He was not building Ricky up. He was challenging Ricky every day and I think Ricky has shown everyone, myself included, how good he is. There are guys, when I talk about Ricky with the Cup drivers, they know when he comes up there he’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt that Ricky Stenhouse will win tons of Cup races and probably championships. He’s truly that good.”
HOW DOES A GUY GO FROM WHERE HE WAS 18 MONTHS AGO TO WHERE HE IS NOW? “I think the cars are better, first of all, so he was not only being thrown to the wolves, I mean, Ricky is a sprint car driver and he was really thrown in this thing head first at a time when I don’t think I was winning any Nationwide races
If I was, it was by the smallest of margins and I’ve been doing this for five years or something when he came in, so the thing about Ricky though is I’ve never personally seen a bigger example of a guy who just all he had to do was slow down a little bit and he’s as fast as anyone.
I think two things coincided, Ricky learned to get the car set up like he wanted to run these long races, and the cars got a little better and however he hung onto his job was awesome and here he is. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s always been a good, solid person through the whole thing. He’s just a good guy.”
DID YOU COME CLOSE TO GETTING CARRIED AWAY WITH BRAD? “I thought about it a little bit, but we kept it clean. That was just good racing. It was really fun. That thing could have gone any number of ways, whether we had a restart or didn’t have a restart. He did his job and that was just a good race. He drove his heart out.”
DO YOU THINK GOING THROUGH THAT FIRE HELPED MAKE HIM INTO A CHAMPION? “Right, all of us in this room, it’s not your successes that make you better, usually, those are nice, but it’s the tough times that make you strong and teach you the biggest lessons. Ricky, I can’t tell you. I wish I had some of those meetings on audio tape or video because he was getting it from all angles and he just kept getting better and kept working and turned this whole thing around. It’s amazing.”
THE RACE STARTS LATE TOMORROW. WHAT WILL YOU DO TOMORROW? “I’ll do normal stuff tomorrow, nothing big. I’ll just have a regular day before the race. Bob and I will talk a little bit tonight like we always do about what our plan is and there’s no change. We’ve got a lot of sponsor folks coming.
Paul Amos from Aflac is gonna be here and we’re excited to have him here. We’ve renewed our partnership for a multi-year deal, so that’s really exciting and a bunch of people from Ford are gonna be here, which is really neat. I think it’s cool that Edsel Ford himself has been here this weekend supporting everybody, but, for me, there’s nothing different – no big appearances or anything like that.”
WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO STOP NATIONWIDE FULL-TIME? “Because it’s been so good for me I am a little bit nervous that it might throw me off a little bit, but I think a big test for me was this year at Sonoma. We had the road course race in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and our car was no good in Friday’s practice and we made the call and Fastenal was okay with us not going to Elkhart Lake.
I was really nervous that would throw me off. I’d been doing that for six years or something traveling that day and not practicing at Sonoma, but it turned out to be our best Sonoma Cup race that we ever had with me staying there and focusing on the Cup car. As much as I learn from running the Nationwide Series, I believe that sometimes, at this point in my career, it takes a little extra energy and it might be better to focus on my Cup car. But if it’s not working, I’ll be back here racing. I’ll find something to drive I hope.”
WERE YOU AT THE MEETING WHEN RICKY CAME IN HIS WORK GOGGLES? “No, what’s the story there?”
HE SHOWED UP IN WORK GOGGLES TO WORK ON THE CARS. “Jack’s boot camp. No, I hadn’t heard that story. All I heard for it seemed like months it was almost like Jack turned it into a game. I mean, you bring up Ricky and he’s like, ‘Yep, we’re running him into the ground. We’re not letting up on him.’ It was like Jack made it his mission that he was gonna go with Ricky to the end of the earth and it wasn’t gonna be fun for Ricky until he turned it around, so it worked out, I guess.”
DID HE EVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT WITH YOU? “Yes. My dad came here tonight. He’s here. Jack and my dad are a lot alike. My dad, when I was a little kid, everything would be going well, the day would be going great, and he’d go, ‘I haven’t beaten you for a while have I?’ Just to remind me like, ‘Hey.’ I’ve been like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been pretty good. Everything is good. I’m gonna keep it that way.’
But Jack is the same way. He pulled me in after one wreck that I caused and he asked me to come in and have a meeting with him. I was under the impression this was gonna be a ‘don’t worry, everything is gonna be great, we’re working really hard and you’re a good driver’ meeting. And he sat me down and said, ‘I just want to make sure you feel bad enough about what you’ve done,’ and he proceeded to tell me all the things I screwed up.
He’s not afraid to break you down real far and make you look at all the things you’re doing, and you have to be strong to put up with that and if you’re not, it’s been my observation that he doesn’t have much use for you. You’ve got to be able to take what he’s able to dish out.”
WHAT ABOUT TONIGHT? “I think tonight was really good practice for tomorrow, but I’ve been doing this Saturday-Sunday thing long enough to know that it doesn’t all transfer. You can really feel like, ‘Oh, hey, I’ve got some things figured out,’ and all of a sudden the race will change, the track conditions will change just a little bit and those Cup cars, they’re so much faster down the straightaway and there’s a lot more accelerating and braking involved to get through the center of the corner that I always have to make sure to switch hats figuratively and make sure I’m driving a Cup car and not to rely on what we’ve done on Saturday, so I’ve only learned a couple of things that I think will be helpful tomorrow.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “It is unbelievable. There are a lot of people that have worked really hard for this. My family has sacrificed a lot. Jack Roush and all these guys on our team, they were with us when we were struggling and they never gave up last year.
Everybody at Ford Racing, Blackwell Angus Beef and Cargill, everybody has worked really hard and rallied together to be a team effort. Our cars back at the shop are phenomenal and all the guys that work hard there. Everybody at Roush Yates engines. It is a total team effort and it means the world to bring this championship to Jack and be a little bit of the history that he has in this sport.
For Ford to get the manufacturers and Jack to get the owners it was for sure a huge team effort. Mike Kelley never let us down. He rallied us, even when we weren’t good and I would get a little mad out there on the race track he straightened me up and helped us keep digging.”
MIKE KELLEY, crew chief No. 6 Ford Mustang – WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE THE CREW CHIEF OF THE 2011 NATIONWIDE CHAMIPIONS? “Just like Ricky said, it means a lot. I heard Carl say the other day that it isn’t about the trophy that you get but the journey you take to get there.
I couldn’t say that anymore for working with Ricky the last 16 or 18 months together. We had tough times last year and it was documented very well. Anyone could have walked away. Jack could have turned his back on him, Ford could have and our guys could have. There were a lot of tough days and grim nights back at the shop. Nobody did though.
I am so proud of my guys and Jack and Ford for sticking behind Ricky and seeing it through. To come through what we did all last year and during the off season we really put our heads down and we weren’t picked to be the favorite and that is probably what helped us the most. We were kind of overshadowed by the Elliott Sadler’s and the Allgaier’s and Sorensen’s and that kinda gave us a fight and desire back at the shop to make sure we came out strong.
It was a total team effort. It wasn’t me. I have a great engineering staff and we moved our shop. Jack let us move down to the Cup shop in Concord and that was a big plus for us. The cars that we get are second to none out there and the engines are second to none. We never quit. We had bad days at the beginning of the year and we learned as a group on fuel mileage and strategy. I feel like we gave up a couple wins based on that. I am proud of the effort of this team during the hard times. We dug in there and finished off strong.”
JACK ROUSH, owner, No. 6 Ford Mustang – WE MADE HISTORY TONIGHT AS A TEAM WON THE DRIVER AND OWNERS CHAMPIONSHIP WITH TWO DIFFERENT PRIMARY DRIVERS. CONGRATULATIONS JACK. “When Carl won his Nationwide championship in 2007 I didn’t win the owners championship and I didn’t know what I did wrong. I didn’t do anything more wrong than I did right this time. It is an honor given to team owners that is really at the mercy of the efforts of the crew chiefs and drivers and the crew.
I am glad to be sharing the honors with Carl and with Ricky and with Mike Beam and Mike Kelley. One thing I want to say, and I have been doing this for my 24th year and this is my third Nationwide championship that I have helped a driver win, but Ricky sits here tonight because of the sacrifice and dedication of a great family. Without his mother and father, I am looking at his mom across the room here, without their sacrifice and dedication and determination to see to it Ricky had everything he needed to develop into the driver he has become it wouldn’t happen.
People like myself or Tony Stewart or other owners that have the race cars would never find a Ricky Stenhouse without the family doing all they have to do and the dark days before it really goes public. Mike Kelley did a great job this year, Mike Beam did a great job behind the scenes. Carl Edwards provided great leadership from a driver point of view. Trevor Bayne did a great job challenging Ricky in some ways and supporting him in others. It has been a great team effort that we are celebrating tonight but I am especially thankful and respectful of the sacrifice of the whole Stenhouse family that they made to get Ricky where he is.”
STENHOUSE CONTINUED – IS THE THE BIGGEST THING TO HAPPEN TO OLIVE BRANCH? “I would say so. It is going to be cool. I plan on taking the trophy when I got to the Christmas parade as Grand Marshal December 3rd. It will be a good homecoming for sure. There are a lot of people back there that are really supportive of what we are doing. The whole school system and everybody down there. It is really cool to have a community behind you like that.”
YOU WERE IN THE TOP FIVE IN POINTS ALL YEAR BEFORE MOVING TO FIRST AND STAYING THERE. WAS THERE A MOMENTUM SHIFT AFTER YOU GOT TO FIRST? “We look at it as one whole year. We got the lead a couple times and lost it but that last time we got it we were bound and determined not to give it back. We wanted to seal it up before coming to Homestead.
We did the best job we could and it was just a whole year of total team effort and really working to not make mistake on pit road and not making mistakes as a driver and crew chief. I think at the end of the year we really limited our mistakes we made in our first half the year that gave those points leads back to other people. That was the main thing we focused on.”
WHAT WAS THE ONE BIGGEST LESSON YOU LEARNED FROM JACK DURING THE TROUBLES LAST YEAR? “The one biggest thing I think I learned from everything Jack has done for me is that he cares about me as a person and really wanted me to succeed.
If he didn’t care he wouldn’t put me in the body shop. That is one thing I learned from my dad. He was tough on my growing up but it was always for a reason. Jack has been an awesome team owner. He has done a lot of great things in NASCAR and I am glad to be a part of this one little thing. He has been doing it a long time. He has his ways of doing things and you have to look at the positives from it. I think that was the biggest thing I learned.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – WHAT WAS IT YOU SAW IN RICKY THAT MADE YOU INSIST ON PUSHING HIM TO THE POINT TO SEE IF HE HAD WHAT IT TOOK? “Ricky was extraordinarily talented. Every challenge we gave him with a new race track or problem with a car as we changed the car Ricky was bright and quick and talented in meeting those challenges.
The thing that was always there when you would reach a situation when it was clear that you could go down this or that path and Mike Beam or Mike Kelley or myself decided to go down a certain path Ricky always went along with it. He never called his dad for support and said we were being to hard on him, he just went along with the program.
That is what a rookie needs to do. He needs to go with the program with the people looking after him and our group had his interests in mind. The other thing was that he was just driven to be competitive to the extent of self destruction to start with. It is much easier to temper that and deal with that that it is for someone that doesn’t want it as bad as those next to them.
They couldn’t realize the ultimate prize. Ricky wanted it bad and he raised himself to be a race car driver. This was his opportunity and he tried to hang on to it too tight to start with and couldn’t realize the success there for him but very quickly we got over that.”
RICKY STENHOUSE CONTINUED – THIS IS THE FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP UNDER THE NEW FORMAT. YOU ARE THE CHAMPION WITH TWO WINS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING THE FIRST CHAMPION IN THIS NEW FORMAT? “It means just as much.
We race week in and week out with those guys. We gave them a run for their money here tonight. Ultimately my goal is to go out there and win the drivers and owners championship. We finished third in the owners championship so we ran really strong all year. We beat Carl, we beat Brad, we passed those guys and raced Kyle Busch. I think as a race team and me as a driver I felt like we are just as good as those guys. I think that racing up there and beating them definitely makes this championship worth it.”
YOU FINISHED STRONG. “This race track is one of my favorites. I wish we came here twice at least. Last year was the first year here. I had a lot of fun and this is just my style of race track. You can drive it in hard, let it slide up to the wall and get back in the gas and really hang it out, it just reminds me a lot of sprint car racing.
Last year, we finished fourth and ran really strong and this year we just came up one spot short and maybe one corner short, but, man, it was fun racing those guys. We were sideways, turning right, trying to keep it off the fence, getting into the fence every now and then, and to race up there with Carl, Brad, Denny, Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, they’re some of the best in the business and to be up there racing with them is fun.”
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU KNOW THE TITLE WAS YOURS AND DID IT CHANGE YOUR PHILOSOPHY? “We were going 100 percent there from the start. It’s tough to get me to back down any. I’m not good at riding around, so I’m not sure what lap it was, Mike Kelley came over and told me we were good to go, that we had won the championship, but we still stayed focused and I think I drove 110 percent after that, so that was the only thing that really changed.”
WAS THERE A TURNING POINT FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM THIS SEASON? “I can think of two. Early in the year when we led laps at Bristol, ran up there with Kyle and I was kind of playing around with him the whole time. Talking to Kyle after he was like, ‘Man, you had the best car.’
We made a mistake on fuel mileage and we made a mistake as a race team getting lined up and we got caught two laps down, so I think we rallied together and we worked on our fuel mileage with Ford and everybody at Roush Fenway and Roush Yates, worked on our fuel mileage, and we kind of got a direction there and that really helped us. And then Indy when we led 190 laps and we came up a couple spots short.
That was pretty tough for us, but we were bound and determined to win some more races and really run up front and dig hard, and Mike was the one that kind of rallied everybody together and kept everybody digging.”
MIKE KELLEY CONTINUED – “I kind of agree with him. Early on in the year we kind of made a few mistakes and left a lot of points on the table, a lot more than we ever thought, and I really feel if we would have been a little smarter, a little better earlier in the year, we’d have been right in the middle of that owner’s championship, and that was our goal from the beginning.
But the thing that meant a lot to me is we sat down in January and we circled a bunch of dates on the calendar for Ricky’s experience level on the road course races, we kind of had a goal, we said we’d have to be 25 points in the lead coming into the last two road course race swing knowing that Elliott had a lot of experience and Ricky had never been to Watkins Glen.
We knew we’d take our lumps there, but if we could get out of there, we didn’t care if it was a one-point lead or a two-point lead, we would tell ourselves on the way home that we came out of there with the lead and now it was ours to hold on to the last 10 races of the year, kind of really laid into Ricky’s schedule – a bunch of short tracks thrown in there with some mile-and-a-halfs that the cars have been good on.
When we made it through those two road course races, I don’t know if it was six, seven, eight points or something, we came out of there with the lead and I remember looking at him on the plane and I told him, ‘Picture that we came in here five points behind and we actually came out six points ahead and we’ll look at it that way, instead of saying we lost 10 today.’ We got the guys rallied back at the shop and said, ‘We’ve only got to turn left from here on in and Ricky can do that as good as anybody out there.’ Lack of experience or not, he’s as talented as anyone I’ve ever seen behind the wheel.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. CONTINUED – AT THE START OF THE YEAR MANY PEOPLE