Concord, N.C. (October 20, 2008) - It was an exhilarating year for Olive Branch, Miss-native Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who made his ARCA RE/MAX Series debut at Daytona in February. Over the last 10 months, Stenhouse has experienced ups and downs but overall, he demonstrated just why Roush Fenway Racing chose him as the future of the team. With two wins (Kentucky and Pocono), three poles (DuQuoin, Chicago and Salem), 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 21 starts, Stenhouse was a regular at the front of the field throughout the 2008 season. After finishing the year fourth in the overall point standings, Stenhouse sat down to reflect on his first season in stock car racing. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Overall how would you sum up the 2008 ARCA season?
A: I think it was good. I learned a lot and that was the main goal, to get as much experience as I could and we did that. I got really comfortable with the car so I think next year we’ll be really good. I learned a lot about the cars, how to drive them and pass with them, which were some things I struggled with at the beginning of the year. All in all I’d say I improved a lot and did what I needed to do.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you were given this year and by whom?
A: The best piece of advice probably came from Tony (Stewart) when he was at Salem talking about the slower lapped cars. I was having trouble, not just at Salem but other tracks too, with getting to lapped cars and thinking I hadn’t caught them in the corners when I had. Tony explained that you have to go in at a different line, not at the same line they (the lapped cars) were running, because you catch them a lot quicker than what you think. Before he told me that, I was slowing us down like a half-second a lap or something. So being able to get by the lapped cars was a big key especially in ARCA where there’s a lot of lapped traffic.
Q: What was your most memorable moment?
A: The first win at Kentucky was pretty memorable since it was my first win in a stock car and my family was there. But I also liked Chicago because we were so dominant. We won the pole, set a new track record, led 67 laps and dominated up front. Even though we finished second, that was a memorable weekend for me.
Q: What are three key things you learned this year?
A: In practice you need to have the car a little bit free. The car gets tighter in traffic so in practice you need to have the car a little too free, it’s a balance that I learned. At the beginning of the year the car would be really good by itself, maybe just a little on the tight side, and then in the race we’d be too tight. So I figured out that we needed the Aflac Ford to be a little free in practice by ourselves and that helped a lot.
Probably the next biggest thing I learned was I need to have a car to finish the race with. To finish up front you have to keep all the fenders on the car. Which leads to the third key thing I learned, patience.
I learned a lot of patience. I go back and run Sprint cars now and people are racing really hard. Last time I was at Eldora for the first five or so laps of the feature, I thought they were going to crash each other. I dropped back and let them race then I passed them. Normally I’d be up in the middle of it and crash at lap six. The ARCA races are long and you have to find a balance of when to ride and work on the car and when to go. A lot can happen in 100 plus laps so you just need to be patient.
Q: Talk about how important Jeff “Lumpy” Campey (crew chief) and the entire Aflac team were to your success this year.
A: They were real important. They had to put up with me tearing cars up and putting stuff back together all the time. I can’t thank Lumpy and my entire Aflac team enough for all that they did for me this year. If I qualified bad I’d be the one mad and upset because we didn’t qualify good but my team would be the ones to tell me don’t worry about it, so I think they increased my confidence a lot. I just think we all got along really well and it showed me that no matter what team you go to you have to get along and work as a team to be successful.
Q: What does it mean to have guys like Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart helping you out?
A: I think it’s cool. It makes my confidence higher. It makes me better as a driver because I can go to them anytime and ask them anything. Not many people can do that. They’ve got a lot of knowledge because they’ve been doing this for a long time. Mainly it helps my confidence but there are a lot of little things, like how to use the brake pedal at a short track, which they helped me with. I’m really lucky to have all my Roush Fenway teammates and Tony helping me out.
Q: How different was it racing a full time ARCA schedule from racing full time in the USAC series?
A: For one there’s a lot of waiting around which I didn’t like. The season seemed really short because I’m used to running 60 times a year instead of 21. There was a lot more downtime away from the track as well. But when I was at the track, and we were racing with Trucks, Cup or Nationwide, I was able to go to truck practice for example and learn a lot even though I wasn’t in the Aflac Ford. That was different. In USAC you go wide open until you’re done. You don’t really learn a lot because you’re in the car the whole time and there’s no other car like them to watch. So it was good being able to learn at the track even though I wasn’t in the car.
Q: What are your plans for 2009?
A: I’m going to go to as many races as I can at the end of this year and learn as much as I can. I don’t know exactly what their plans are for me next year but I hope to be racing more than 21 times whether it’s in ARCA or one of the NASCAR Series.
About Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing is NASCAR’s largest team operating 13 motorsports teams. Five in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with drivers Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Ragan; four in the Nationwide Series with Kenseth, Biffle, Edwards, McMurray, Ragan, Erik Darnell and Colin Braun; and three in the Craftsman Truck Series with Darnell, Braun, Travis Kvapil, Bobby East and John Wes Townley; and one in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.