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Interview With NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Q: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., talk about back-to-back here in the Nationwide Series; how does that feel?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: It feels really good. You know, I think it’s just a testament to how hard Jack works and puts these guys together. I guess Mike is drinking already, but — I don’t know where he is (laughing). But he’s done a great job building this team. He came to me when I was a rookie in 2010 and brought speed in the car and helped me to finish these races and figure this out.

You know, we won Rookie of the Year in 2010 and we were at the banquet, and we said that we wanted to be there in 2011, and we were able to accomplish that. To sit up there last year, and we told each other that we wanted six to ten wins and another championship, we got that, just a lot of hard work by a lot of great people, and I’m just blessed to be a part of it.

Q: Jack, just talk about this championship. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. certainly one of the young, bright stars in our sport, going to be moving up to your Cup program next year. Just talk about what it means to win back-to-back championships with the No. 6 car.

JACK ROUSH: It’s been my honor and an extreme privilege to be part of the NASCAR operation here for 25 years. I’ve had a lot of great driver and crew chief combinations over the years. I’ve never had anything that has worked better than the relationship between Mike Kelley and Ricky. They are both going to do very well in this business for a long time to come.

It’s hard to put together a second championship on the heels of a first, especially when it’s your first and your second one you’re dealing with, and I’ve never seen it done before. I guess it’s been done, but certainly not by my crowd, and Ricky and Mike really deserve my thanks and my credit for the great job they did.

The sponsors behind the program, of course, made it all possible. Cargill is really important, as are all the other sponsors, and Ford Motor Company has been unwavering in 40 years of support for the team. We’ve had a great time, and it’s just super to be down here with Ford championship weekend and able to celebrate another championship.

 

Q. Ricky, toward the end of the race there when you were racing with the 2, the 3 and the 11 in particular, it looked like it got a little bit dicey there at times. Were there some anxious moments at any point there? And Jack, for you were there any anxious moments when that was going on?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: There were some anxious moments for our spotter, and I got tired of listening, so I keyed up the mic so he couldn’t talk to me the rest of the way. He wanted me to let him got, and of course I wanted 20 top 5s at least, so I came up one spot short. We wanted to win the race; that’s what we come to do each and every week and that’s what got us in the position that we were in. I felt like at times throughout the race we were okay, and the second-to-last run we were really, really loose, made a big adjustment, and I think we just over-adjusted a little bit, and we — I like racing hard like that. That’s what I do, that’s what I enjoy, and that’s why I love racing. That’s just how I drive.

Q: Mike Calinoff was trying to do what he thought was best for Ricky and best for the team. He was getting on Ricky’s nerves a little bit and he was getting on my nerves, as well. I saw Ricky and I was aware that all the alarms went off and the mic got stuck, and I motioned to Mike, I said, it’s the steering wheel, he’s doing it himself, it’s in the car. Then to start with they thought maybe a crewman had a mic that was depressed. No, there was a car noise there, and Ricky had pushed it, but my concern was that he’d fool around and hit the wall while he was trying to hold the damn button down.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: It was only 10 laps.

MIKE KELLEY: Mike was well aware of what was going on.

Q: Let’s hear from crew chief Mike Kelley. Mike, back-to-back championships as a crew chief. Just talk about how that feels.

MIKE KELLEY: It’s pretty awesome. A year ago after coming up here and winning the — last year me and Ricky sat down and we said we really like sitting up on the stage.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: We told that story already.

MIKE KELLEY: We put a lot of work. Jack and them gave us all the opportunities we needed. Toughest thing we probably took for granted over the last couple years was having teammates, and trying to do it without a teammate, really relying on everything Ricky tells us each and every week, and making sure we had good enough cars to give him what he needed to do obviously. When our cars are close or really good, it’s tough for anyone to stand up to Ricky out there. But there’s been a couple weeks where we missed and didn’t give him the things he needed, and he was able to bring them home with solid finishes.

Comes up to a night like tonight where we were able to reach a goal that we set, and that’s a really good feeling.

 

Q. Ricky, were you frustrated by the end of the race? Were you trying to kind of hold back during the race? And what would it have been like to have to sit all season if you did happen to hit the wall there?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I don’t think about that. I go out and drive 100 percent every lap. I ran the bottom when I needed to, I ran the very top when I needed to, and I ran the middle. I just — I don’t know. Luckily I’m not having to tell you how it would have felt.

No, like I said, I like to go out and have fun. I like to drive hard, and I don’t ride around. That’s not how we got in our position. I think if I rode around a little bit we wouldn’t have been even close in the points. I think we could have stretched it out this year. But driving that hard has made some mistakes this year by me and got us where it was close, but I don’t know. I don’t know how that feels.

 

Q. Ricky, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but were you like pissed at the end of the race? The championship kind of celebration seemed subdued from what we saw, and after the race you came on the radio and there was kind of like silence and you were like, hey, nice job all year.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Well, we lost the race. I like winning races. I didn’t come to Homestead, my favorite racetrack, to run sixth. But I think seeing my guys excited is what I like to see. I know they were excited, their families were excited that’s put a lot of effort into letting them go on the road, and that’s what I like to see.

Yeah, I’m excited about it and definitely excited about it. We’ll celebrate the championship for sure on Monday, and we’ve got a Cup race to run tomorrow. But I was pretty disappointed we didn’t win.

 

Q. Mike, when you were offered a job to go with Ricky to move up with Ricky, why did you turn it down?

MIKE KELLEY: There’s a couple reasons involved. Obviously I think with Ricky going to the Cup Series, he’s going to need somebody that really knows those cars a lot and been around those cars a lot, and I’ve — especially this year, I really was solely integrated into the Nationwide side. We obviously are affiliated with a Cup team and I can use the resources as I need them, but there’s me and my engineer and Dave Simba, we stay focused on that, and I have had no interaction really with the Cup side and anything they needed, anything they’re doing.

I told Jack, I said that I thought Ricky needed the very best crew chief, the most technically smart crew chief. Those cars are a lot different than what we’re used to, and I felt like he deserved — going in as a rookie, he deserved to have the very best. And also I have two small children at home. Cup crew chief deal is a seven-day-a-week, 70-hour-a-week job. I love being home on Sundays and spending it with my kids right now. I told Jack the other night, I will go to the Cup level again, and I will win races for Jack, and I will win a championship for Jack. And if our paths cross again for sure with Ricky, that would be a dream come true for me.

But for the last two and a half years from the very first time we sat in a trailer in Phoenix and we spit in our hands, the three of us in 2010 and said we would stick this out, the three of us together, the ride has been an amazing ride for two and a half years. We had some tough days at the beginning. We wrecked a lot of race cars and we missed a race at Nashville, and no one ever gave up, no one ever quit, kept pushing, and got where we needed to be last year, and that wasn’t enough. We set the bar high.

When I got back from the banquet last year and got to the shop, I had three guys left from my team from the championship deal, and Jack said we’re going to do this again, you’re going to put a new team together for Ricky and you’re going to go contend for this championship, and not one person, not one person looked at it any other way.

 

Q. Ricky, I know a lot of people, their first win or their first championship means the most. I wondered given how much winning races means to you how this one compares to your first one?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: Yeah, I think it’s a bigger one. Obviously the performances this year was a lot better than last year, and I think that’s what you’ve got to look at.

Obviously it’s always special having that first championship, but when you can go out and you’re a car to beat every week, I think that’s what classifies a great year.

I felt like we were that car this year. Everybody knew showing up to the racetrack that we were going to have to be beat to win the race, and I think that makes this year more special.

 

Q. Brian France mentioned earlier about digitizing cars in the coming future. Are you looking forward to interacting with fans and people that are looking to get at you via Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, in the digital world?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: So you’re telling me we’re going to be tweeting and driving at the same time?

Q: Not any time soon.

 

Q. You may be able to just look a certain way and tweet.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: I guess I’ll start practicing.

 

Q. Don’t we tell all the kids at home don’t do that?

RICKY STENHOUSE JR.: That’s what I tell them all the time. Anything that we can do to bring the fans closer to what we do each and every day I think is a good thing, and if it wasn’t for fans, we wouldn’t be able to be out here doing this sport.

We thank them a lot, but yeah, anything that gets them closer to seeing what we do each and every day is pretty cool.

JACK ROUSH: I want to correct an impression, I think, that some people may have. Ricky didn’t run as many laps in practice probably as he wanted to because we’re being careful to make sure that we didn’t put too many miles on the engine. So the car may not have been set up as well as it was a year ago or as it has been for most of our races, and the reason Ricky didn’t advance more than he did in the race, it wasn’t because Mike Calinoff was holding him back, it was because most of the race the car just didn’t handle, and it didn’t handle at the end as good as he would have hoped. That was part of his frustration I’m sure. There was a strategy that said we were not going to take a chance on breaking a part, and Mike was being careful to protect a set of tires. So for that reason I think that we weren’t at our best in terms of the car setup, and that reflected more in the fact that Ricky finished sixth than any strategy or anything the spotter said.

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Posted by on November 18, 2012. Filed under NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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