The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time race winner this season for Roush Fenway Racing. I spoke with Stenhouse at Bristol Motor Speedway.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
That’s a tough question. I think a lot of us feel like we got here on our natural ability, but a lot of hard work goes into that as well. Growing up racing sprint cars, I had to work on all my cars and do all the work with some buddies. When I got here to NASCAR, you try to refine and hit your marks and maybe get a little more patient. So I don’t know if there’s a percentage, but it definitely takes both.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I’m not really good at sales pitches. But I think right now we’re doing a good job at trying to get (Dale) Junior’s fans. Obviously, winning the superspeedways, Junior’s fans, I feel like he got a ton from his success on those, and he’s kind of got a big group of followers. So I’d like to snag a few.
But really, I just need to keep going out and getting us to perform better. I know that our best performances are still ahead of us. We’re still gaining on it, so I think if the fans want something to look forward to as we keep building, definitely come be a fan of ours.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
The hardest part is really just managing time. We don’t get a whole lot of time at home. There’s things that we have to do for our job, but there’s things that we want to do for our fun time outside of it, and it tends to end up causing a lot of travel. Sometimes I think you just get run down. So really trying to manage all of that — like right now I’ve been home one night in three weeks, so I think it’s just trying to not run yourself down too much and manage that.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Yeah, I don’t mind at all. I think that’s cool, being recognized outside the racetrack. It’s funny, I got a lot of people coming up to me outside the racetrack at dinners and stuff, asking me if I did American Ninja Warrior. So that’s kind of cool. But yeah, just come on up.
So they recognize you from the show? They’re like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy?”
Yeah, and I told (Ryan) Blaney that — since he did it with me this year — and he’s said he’s gotten that a few times as well.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
There’s teams that do a lot with a little — and you recognize it, people talk about it a few times throughout the year at superspeedways. There’s points in the weekend that a car that doesn’t have as much resources is able to go put some fast laps down for the equipment that they have. Not necessarily go to the top of the board or anything like that. But I feel like that happens quite often.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Last driver I texted? (Kyle) Larson.
You have golf game coming up or something?
No, we went to dinner last night. We went to play golf yesterday on our golf group (the Golf Guys Tour). Last night we got back and we were like, “We’re tired, let’s go to bed.” Then he texted me, “Hey, are you still gonna go eat?” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” So we went and had some Mexican (food).
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
Yeah, I think we are entertainers. I think everybody in sports is here for entertainment. Is it circus entertainment? No, it’s competitive entertainment where a lot of fans enjoy what we do and the show that we put on, and we try to go out and do the best that we can for our fans and our sponsors. But really, we want this to be a good race, which will be a good show for people to watch.
It does seem like a circus sometimes, though.
(Smiles) Yeah, I wasn’t gonna say that, but it seems like a circus sometimes.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I may have done it one time. I get really mad if somebody does it to me — I feel like it’s kind of rude. Every now and then people will give a hand out of window and it’s like, “Oh, OK, they’re not super happy about that.” But the finger, I feel that’s a little far and I’ll try to run into them if they do it. So it really gets me kind of irritated.
So you’re not a finger-giver. Only one time.
Yeah, maybe once. Maybe. I’m saying maybe because I don’t recall. But yeah, I think it’s a little disrespectful.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
One hundred percent. I think that’s really the key if you want some of your races to go smoothly. If somebody lets me by and I’m way faster, if that position gets reversed, I try to remember that so I can pay that favor back to them and you can kind of expect that a few times. It goes both ways, but I think it’s starting to get back around.
I feel like back in the day, that was kind of known to be the code. Now I think people are realizing that they can make it tougher on themselves if they want.
So after Mark Martin left, it kind of went the other way and now it’s sort of getting back to being more respectful because the younger guys sort of figured things out, perhaps?
Yeah, I guess so. From the sounds of it, Mark was really good at really…I don’t know if you say “courteous” on the racetrack. But some of your fans don’t like (being respectful) and some of your teams don’t, so you gotta balance it. You can’t just let everybody go; you have to race. We’re out there to race. So you just pick and choose your battles: When do you think it will pay off better for you to let somebody go, or to really push it?
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I don’t know. Probably Luke Bryan.
He’s pretty popular.
At that dinner, Pharrell stopped by. We didn’t technically have dinner with him, but he came by and hung out for a little while. That dinner was Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Pharrell stopped by and Little Big Town. It was a big group.
That’s a good dinner right there. That’s pretty epic.
Yeah, it was good. It’s fun sometimes. At the ESPYs you get a lot of good dinners as well — before Peyton (Manning’s) last year, we all had dinner. And there were also a lot of other people eating dinner — Blake Griffin, too.
You’ve had a better answer than a lot of the drivers this year.
Oh, that’s good. Yeah, Danica and I get to meet a lot of cool people.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
Patience. I get a little irritated pretty quick. Even if it’s throughout practice and we make changes that don’t quite go the right way. I’ll come in and talk to (crew chief Brian) Pattie and he’ll say, “Look, we had to do that. That was on the list of things we needed to try.” And I’m like, “Well if you felt like it wouldn’t be better, we shouldn’t do it!” So I get a little frustrated pretty quick, but sometimes it’s better. Not all the time. (Smiles)
12. The last interview I did was with Chase Elliott. His question was: How is your golf game, and are you expecting to win the Golf Guys championship this year?
Oh wow. (The Thursday before Bristol) my golf game was not good, but I’m sitting third in points, so I feel like I have a good opportunity to win our championship. I really want to. Denny (Hamlin, who founded the competition) won it last year and we say he makes all the rules, so it kind of worked in his favor. But he’s second in points right now, so it’s gonna be a good battle.
I’ve got to go work on my game. We’ve been really busy this whole year, so I haven’t been able to work on my game as much as I wanted to. But we’re running better over here, so that’s really what matters to me.
How many matches or rounds do you have left?
I believe four rounds. We do eight events. The points increase as we go the last two events or three events. You want to run second or third every event, so then you can win the points by a lot.
When you win, it puts you at deficit. I won one event so far, but you gotta get so many points based on your handicap. Well when you win an event, we always add two points to your points that you have to get, so it makes it difficult and challenging to keep scoring those points. So you want to come on a run right as the Tour Championship (is approaching).
I don’t know who the next driver is, but do you have a question I can ask another race car driver in general?
My question for any driver would be: What did they do on the off weekend? And if it was fun, why didn’t they invite me?
I mean, I got plans, but…
At least you could get the invite.
Yeah, I mean a little reach-out like, “Hey, we’re doing this. Do you want to come?” That would be cool.
This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).