Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who currently leads the Nationwide Series point standings. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is in his second full-time Nationwide season.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
RSJ: I think it'd be David Ragan. I've been to a lot of tests with him, and he's helped me quite a bit at other tests. Obviously, it's tough having Matt (Kenseth), Carl (Edwards) and Greg (Biffle) as your teammates, you know? I think that's why he's probably underrated – because when you're racing with those guys, it's tough to beat them every week.
SBN: What's a race in your career that you didn't win and it still bothers you because you didn't?
RSJ: (Smiles) Well, that would be ORP this year for obvious reasons (Editor's note: Brad Keselowski on won a green-white-checkered finish after Stenhouse dominated the race). That was the first race I think I've ever led the most laps in a Nationwide race – and I led almost all of them. Except for the one that matters (chuckles).
SBN: So it still bugs you when you're driving down the road, for example?
RSJ: Oh yeah. Yeah. That's the one I'm still thinking like, 'Man...' Especially after we won Iowa, it was like, 'That could have been two wins in a row!'
SBN: Let's say you can be on a four-car Sprint Cup Series team – you and three other guys – but you can't team up with any Roush Fenway Racing drivers. Who would you want to be your teammates?
RSJ: I'd go with Kyle Busch. He's obviously really good at anything he does. I'd probably go with Jeff Gordon, too. Jeff Gordon came from sprint cars and obviously he knows how to win championships. So he could help me out a lot, and the experience he has would be really good for a four-car team. And then let's go with Clint Bowyer. Bowyer and I get along great. And he runs dirt cars all the time, so that'd be fun, too.
SBN: Which driver did you want to model yourself after when you were coming up through the ranks?
RSJ: My favorite growing up was Jeff Gordon, but once I got into everything, I think I kind of wanted to model myself after Tony Stewart. I was able to drive for him in 2007, and just (liked) the way he can win in any car. At one point, we were talking and (he told me) he'd won in 22 of 23 different race cars he's raced in. After I got in (to the sport) and kind of started seeing what he had done, I looked up to being like him.
SBN: What's a memorable escape you've made from the track to the airport after a race?
RSJ: After the Chicago race last year, I drove eight hours straight home to Mississippi. That was a tough one. But usually, traffic's not too bad after the Nationwide race, you know? But we've had some excursions on the way to the racetrack. Me and Trevor had one thing like that last year.
SBN: Why, were you running late?
RSJ: Well, we almost were after the incident.
SBN: Uh oh, sounds bad.
RSJ: Yeah. Last year, we were at Homestead and had to get to our rookie meeting at the track. We were staying in Key Largo, so Trevor (Bayne) and I are coming up the road and there's this gravel road you can take. This gravel road is dead straight to the track, so we decided to take that way. But we bottomed out and put a hole in the oil pan. We lost all of the oil.
I was driving. And we're sitting there, stuck on the road, and we've got to get to our rookie meeting. If you don't go to the rookie meeting, you don't get your extra set of tires and stuff like that.
I'm like, 'Trevor, the car's not running. We lost the fuel pressure or something.' He's like, 'You're lying!' I'm like, 'No...no, I'm not.' We stopped, and he's like, 'Start it back up.' I said, 'I don't think it's going to, but OK...' And no. It didn't.
The radio and stuff was still working, so we popped the hood just to make sure the battery cables were still connected. I looked under the car and saw the oil and said, 'Trevor, I don't think we're gonna get there.'
We're like, 'Man, what do we do?' So we called Trevor's dad and had to tell him where we are to get him to come pick us up. It was a mess. But we made it on time. Usually we're running right on time, but that day we had been a little early, luckily.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
RSJ: That's a tough one. There's two ways you could go about that one...
SBN: A hot chick or a celebrity, right?
SBN: Got it.
RSJ: Well, my all-time favorite would be Garth Brooks. And I know Tony is good friends with him, so I don't know why I haven't met him yet. Like when we were running the Chili Bowl in Tulsa – that's where Garth and Trisha (Yearwood) live, and Trisha sent over some chicken salad (for the team). I'm like, 'Man, I've eaten her chicken salad, but I haven't met them yet.' So that'd be a guy I'd need to meet, I think.
SBN: Let's say you could either win five Nationwide races but miss out on the championship or win the title but not win any races. Which would you rather have?
RSJ: I like winning races. But I think you'd almost have to take the championship. Matt won his Cup championship and won only one race that year, but he's still a Cup champion. You know? You don't take anything away from him. So I'd probably have to go with a championship. You'd have to be good all year.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from? Why do you want to win so badly?
RSJ: I'm competitive in everything I do. And that started young. Heck, I started racing bicycles when I was 3. Since then, I've wanted to win – and it doesn't matter if we're playing a card game or any type of ball sport or what it is. There's just something about beating everybody else, you know?
SBN: How much does your personality differ from when you're inside the car to when you're standing here chatting?
RSJ: I think it's quite a bit different. When I'm outside the car, I'm just kind of relaxed, hanging out. People tell me I could be more confident outside the car, but when I get in the race car, I don't feel like anybody can beat me. I'm not gonna go out there and tell anybody that I feel like I'm the best driver, but when I get in the car, I feel like I am. I think I drive 10 times harder than anybody would think if they met me out here.
SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from another sport, who would you want to be?
RSJ: I used to ride motocross, and every time I watch it, I think, 'Man...I wish I would have done that.' Chad Reed has kind of always been the guy I watched in Supercross. So I'll go with Chad Reed. That'd be cool.
For one thing, they get to practice all the time. They just build a track in their backyard and get to go practice. You don't get to practice (NASCAR) all the time. That'd be another cool thing about it.
SBN: So why Chad Reed as opposed to James Stewart or somebody like that?
RSJ: Well when I first started watching it, it was Jeremy McGrath. I always had Yamaha motorcycles growing up. McGrath rode those, and obviously he was winning. When Chad Reed was running on the bike James Stewart is on now, I became a fan of his.
He moved from Australia, just him and his wife. And he said, 'Hey, I'm going to make it in racing.' And he did. Plus, if he's from Australia, that means he gets to go back there – and I've never been there. So that'd be cool, too.
SBN: If you could take a year off at some point in your career and go do whatever you wanted – but know you had a ride guaranteed when you came back – would you ever want to do that?
RSJ: I think I'd want to keep racing. I've been going to the racetrack since I was 6 – my dad raced and all that. And really, when we have weekends off, I struggle to figure out something to do. I'm just one of those guys who just enjoys being here no matter what. I could think of a lot of things I'd like to do if I took a year off, but I think I'd rather stay racing.
SBN: When you eventually quit racing someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
RSJ: I think I want everybody, before I'm done, to feel like I drove 110 percent every single lap. I talked to Kyle Busch after Atlanta and he's like, 'Man, you don't have to drive that hard every single lap. You were smoking the right-rear tire off the corner.' But that's just how I've always driven. That's how I drove from the time I was 6 years old until now. I just like putting on a show for people.
When I was in sprint cars, it was the mentality of, 'Sometimes you crash big and sometimes you win, but either way it was a good show.' And I want to do the same thing here. I think it's going to be pretty tough to do, but I kind of want to have that same kind of feeling.
SBN: So let me get this straight – Kyle Busch was giving advice on not running so hard?
RSJ: Yeah, that's what he told me! I figured if he's telling me that, then I am running maybe a little too hard. He's cool, though. We race really hard and we ran really hard at Atlanta. It was kind of cool to hear that from him, because I watch him drive so hard compared to everybody else out there.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the Nationwide title this year. Would you rather have it wrapped up after Phoenix or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season at Homestead?
RSJ: I would rather win it at Texas! Last year, Brad (Keselowski) won at Texas and got the cowboy hat and all that. That's more my style, there. That'd be the coolest way to do it. I'd definitely like to have it wrapped up as early as possible though.
For one thing, Homestead is one of my favorite tracks and I'd like to just go be able to give it all we've got without any worries.