Daytona 500 Champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Is Living Through A ‘Career-Defining Moment’

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was upset for a moment after he won the 2023 Daytona 500. It sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s because the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing couldn’t do a celebratory burnout. He ran out of gas.

So what did Stenhouse do? Well, he climbed the fence like three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves used to do. Except this time, Stenhouse did pull ups on the fence in front of the sold-out crowd at Daytona International Speedway.

“It’s surreal, for sure,” Stenhouse said the morning after winning the Great American Race. “It’s really special for anybody’s career. There’s champions of the sport who wish they got a Daytona 500 and they never did. They tried and tried, and they got oh so close. It’s the race that the closer you come, the tougher it is to finish it off.

“We came close last year, and I felt really confident in going to victory lane last year, but we came five laps short. Given the opportunity again, I wanted to make sure we captured that. It’s a big relief, for one, to get back to victory lane in the Nascar Cup Series, but to do it in the Daytona 500. The wait was definitely worth it.”

Stenhouse captured the Harley J. Earl Trophy on Sunday evening in a triumph for a Nascar underdog team. JTG Daugherty Racing is a single-car operation co-owned by Jodi and Tad Geschickter and former NBA player Brad Daugherty.

The team has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, but it is one of only a handful of single-car organizations. Since JTG Daugherty Racing joined the Cup Series in 2009, its only other win came in 2014 with AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen International.

“We’re tenacious,” Jodi said after Sunday’s victory. “We don’t quit. We dig in.”

JTG officially opened its doors in 1995 as an Xfinity Series team. The car number they used — the No. 47 — has been with them ever since.

Most of all, for JTG Daugherty Racing, the Daytona 500 win is a culmination of hard work putting together one of the sport’s most creative sponsorship arrangements. KrogerKR
and Kimberly-ClarkKMB
have a unique partnership agreement with JTG Daugherty Racing, splitting the decals on the No. 47 car with opportunities for different brands to be featured on the racecar.

“Everyone we have are Fortune 500 top share brands,” Tad said. “Kroger doesn’t lose. For them to stick behind us during our hard times, they want to see a winner. We kept saying, stick behind us. We’ll keep digging until we give you a winner.

“We had 125 corporate sponsors here, all C level people, and it was awesome watching them dance around in victory lane, so I’m glad we got to do it together.”

For Stenhouse, who’s known to be one of Nascar’s most aggressive drivers on superspeedways like Daytona, this is his third career Cup Series win. His previous two triumphs both came in 2017 on superspeedways, when he was competing with what was then Roush Fenway Racing (before it became RFK Racing).

The sweet taste of finally returning to victory lane after a five-plus year winless streak is important for the Mississippi native. His life, he said, is completely different now.

“We’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Stenhouse said of his career. “But that’s racing. We have 38 weekends a year that we do this. We want to be more consistent and win more races, but this sport is tough. The best of the best are here. It was huge for my career – a career-defining moment for sure. We want to take this and go into the rest of the 36 weeks [including the All-Star Race] we have left and win some more races.”

The No. 47 team had solid speed at times last year, but Stenhouse had his worst statistical season since 2015, earning an average result of 22.8 and finishing 26th in the standings. His runner-up finish at Dover was the team’s biggest bright spot, leading the organization to hire Stenhouse’s old crew chief, Mike Kelley, to crew chief this car.

The duo won the 2011 and 2012 Xfinity Series titles together. There is simply no better way to kick off their second shot together than to win the sport’s biggest race.

“He’s been an integral part of my career and he helped me get on the scene in stock car racing,” Stenhouse said of Kelley. “We battled with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and a lot of the guys who were winning on Sunday. We had a lot of confidence that we could do it as a team. If you look at this past Sunday, a lot of the guys we had to defend to get that win are guys who have won a ton in the sport and are past champions.”

When things finally settled down on Sunday night, Stenhouse met with Stewart, who was in the Fox Sports booth throughout the race. Stewart co-owns a Ford team — Stewart-Haas Racing — but he’s developed a close relationship with Stenhouse over the years, as both are passionate dirt track racers.

Stenhouse said, “Talking to Tony Stewart afterwards and seeing him make sure that I enjoyed this with my team, my friends and my family that we had at the race – someone who’s a multi-time champion who never won the Daytona 500 – I could tell how important it was to get this checked off your bucket list. We want to win a championship and win more races, but this is the top race that everyone wants to win in their career. We were able to achieve that.”

For Stenhouse, to be crowned a Daytona 500 after having so many unknowns when he departed RFK in 2020, it is truly surreal. When he was called up to the Cup Series in 2013, high expectations were placed upon him as Matt Kenseth’s replacement. However, he landed a seat with the team as it was beginning to tumble, and Stenhouse was loyal to the organization that gave him his first chance.

“I definitely had former teammates who said, ‘Hey, I don’t think this is a great time to be in this spot,’” Stenhouse said. “But it was what I had and I had to take it, roll with it and do my best with it. We definitely didn’t have the successes that I thought we could’ve had. We didn’t get things done the correct way.

“It’s one of those things in this sport where you look at people’s careers, they switch teams after being in this sport for 10-plus years and now they’re Cup champions. I still feel like I can do that. Getting this Daytona 500 victory definitely boosts my confidence that we can still achieve great things.”

Now, Stenhouse is the face of JTG Daugherty Racing. He doesn’t have teammates to compete against for the team’s best equipment and he can be himself in this situation. As a Daytona 500 champion, he is ready to show why this team can raise even more eyebrows in 2023.