Coke 600: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s NASCAR Debut Comes With Mixed Feelings

Excited. Happy. A bit nervous. Conflicted.

Those are some of the emotions Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is experiencing this weekend as he prepares to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Coca-Cola 600.

The past year has been a roller coaster for Stenhouse. After a series of crashes left his future in doubt a year ago, Roush Fenway Racing stuck with the young driver and decided to keep giving him more chances in the Nationwide Series.

Stenhouse rewarded the team's faith in him, turning his career around and winning last week's Nationwide race at Iowa.

Now, he'll make his Cup debut in NASCAR's longest race, the marathon Coke 600.

But Stenhouse can't celebrate the opportunity without some mixed feelings. After all, his seat in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford was available because one of his best friends, Trevor Bayne, is still being held out while recovering from a mysterious illness.

The two friends have spoken several times about the issue, and Bayne has been nothing but supportive, Stenhouse said. But Stenhouse is still cognizant of the emotions involved.

"You know, I was hoping he was going to be back," Stenhouse said. "I definitely, if anything, didn't want to be in his ride. We're such good friends. But he's been supportive of it, and that's definitely helped."

Stenhouse said the drivers talked about the differences between the Cup car and the Nationwide car – Stenhouse hasn't tested a Cup car much – and is a bit nervous about how the 600 will go.

It'll help that his good friend will be at the track.

"I think one of the key things we have going is Jack (Roush) is supportive of both of us," Stenhouse said. "Everyone at Roush Fenway, Ford Racing, the Wood Brothers – and Trevor – knows that's his seat.

"This is just one race. Even if he did win it, he would still be back in the car. It's nothing that's going to take his job away, and I think that's something he knows. And I know that. I'm glad that I wouldn't be able to take that from him, because I definitely wouldn't like to do that."

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