Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on returning to Iowa, and the North Wilkesboro fight: 12 Questions (2024)

Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a three-time Xfinity Series winner at Iowa Speedway, which will host its inaugural NASCAR Cup Series event on Sunday night. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity, but the full version is available on the 12 Questions podcast.

1. What is currently the No. 1 thing on your bucket list?

To win at a non-plate track. Preferably Bristol. It’s important for me. In the Xfinity Series, we won on every racetrack but a plate racetrack. I actually didn’t like plate racing very much. (Laughs.) Obviously, our three wins (in Cup) have been on plate tracks — now, I would take those three wins over not having three wins. But I would like to win at a different racetrack.


2. How much media coverage of NASCAR do you consume?

A decent amount. I definitely stay up to date on what’s going on. I’ll probably see 80 percent of it. Now, I might not click every article, but I’ll see the headlines and things like that.

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3. Beyond winning, what is the best way to measure success in racing?

It really has to do with the team and setting your goals in the offseason and then trying to achieve those goals. Every organization is different. And even individual teams in those organizations probably have different goals. So we set those goals in the offseason.

Last year, we met 90 or 95 percent of our goals. This year, we haven’t even been close to meeting what we’ve looked at. So far, it’s been a little bit of a failure as far as setting those goals and trying to achieve them. But sometimes you’ve got to readjust and look at the landscape and know what you’re working with.

We all show up and the first laps we hit the racetrack, our mindset is, “Hey, we’re gonna go win this weekend.” Obviously, after a practice session, you’re probably like, “Alright, now these are our goals this weekend.” (Laughs.) So you reassess. You can reset and readjust.

4. What is an opinion you have about NASCAR that you don’t think is shared by the fans?

One of the things I see NASCAR does is they really work hard at trying to achieve better racing. I don’t know if the fans really see all the work they do and the money they spend continually on development. Now, does it work? It really hasn’t yet. But just because you don’t see something changing doesn’t mean they’re not working on it. I know a lot of fans will be like, “Oh, this racing is not good or that racing is not good.” They probably think NASCAR doesn’t work on it as much. But I would say they do.

5. What is the biggest thing fans don’t realize about what you do for a living?

There’s a lot of stuff I do outside of the racetrack. I might have a day or two off a week, but I’ve got something to do for racing just about every day — whether that be with partnerships or NASCAR or the team. I’m at the shop two days a week just with meetings, and then you’ve got the sim. It’s not just a weekend job. And I think fans know that, but they probably don’t see a ton of it.


6. So this next one is about a current topic related to you. Iowa Speedway is coming up, and even all these years when I think of Iowa, I immediately think of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. You won three in a row there at one point in the Xfinity Series and swept a season. And this was back when Cup guys like Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski were in the races. So what about that track suited your style, and are you optimistic that all these years later, you can go back and pick up where you left off?

I’m excited to go back. I haven’t been there since 2012. The crazy thing is I like thinking about the good parts of Iowa, but I was reminding somebody the other day I’ve had the flip side at Iowa. In 2010, we actually crashed a car in practice, I crashed my backup car in qualifying and I ran Carl’s car in the race. But obviously I’ve got great memories. I got my first Xfinity win there and I’ve got three of the gas cans (trophies) sitting at home.

I’m not sure how it’s going to race or drive. We didn’t do the test, and we don’t get data from the test. I haven’t really seen many videos of it. We are gonna get to do some sim on it, but I’m very excited to get back. I hope it races well. I know when I watched the Xfinity races after I had been there, man, they were really, really good. So I know the fans will be there and I think it’s gonna be a cool weekend.

7. This next one is a wild-card question. Of course, the North Wilkesboro fight (with Kyle Busch) is still something that is a daily appearance in my feed thanks to the meme part of it. Based on what you’ve said, a lot of this had to do with being trapped in the infield and then you felt you had to follow through on your word. But after all the fallout, if a similar situation comes up again, do you do anything differently? Or do you react the same way based on how everything unfolded?

I mean, you might do it somewhere else. But I was pretty fired up. I got my point across. It was taken very well in the garage and with a lot of the fans. Yeah, there’s the backside of it that comes along with the suspensions and fines and things that definitely suck. But on the other hand, I felt like we gained a lot of respect from a lot of the competitors and teams in here for really just standing (our) ground. They all felt like I got wrecked for no reason the same way we did.

Sitting in the hauler for that whole race, I was really mad. And then I’d calm down and then I’d be mad again. I saw the replay of it a couple of times and looked at some data stuff and I got really fired up. Things happen when you get crashed on accident and it’s just a racing thing. But that was blatantly crashed. So if I do anything different, I would maybe choose a different location.

Does the fine (a record $75,000 for a fight) still bother you? Or are you at the point where you can joke about it?

I still haven’t gotten to really make my point yet to NASCAR. I did on the phone; we talked back and forth for three or four days. But I still haven’t sat down with them. And I’ve got a lot of questions. I figured there would be some kind of (penalty), right? Suspensions, fines, whatever. Obviously, I didn’t think it was going to be that high. And I didn’t think my crew guys would be out that long. But I also felt like at least one or two of his crew guys would have been also in that same situation. So I’ve got a lot of questions I have to ask, and maybe I can get back to you on that.

What are you going to do with the yellow shorts you were wearing? People said you should auction them off.

I wore them the other day. Kevin (Harvick) flies home with us, and I wore them on the airplane the other day. I walked to the back where Kevin was sitting and he goes, “Oh, I thought those were the shorts you wore.” And I was like, “These are the shorts I was wearing.” He goes, “Oh, I thought they were flowers.” I was like, “No, they’re camo.” He goes, “Oh, those are kind of cool.” I was like, “Thanks. You’ve been bashing me for them for two weeks now.”

Madyson, my wife, had texted Kevin like, “Hey, chill out. I bought those for him.” I’ll probably keep them. But Madyson was really not thrilled with me after that whole incident. Obviously, she’s pregnant and she thought she was going to go into early labor or something. So that was kind of chaotic for her.

But I don’t know, we’ve debated (making a shirt). Bob (Pockrass) has his shirt. The crew guy (from Busch’s team) has his shirt, which I wasn’t super impressed with. I watched the videos a couple of times, and the guys he “threw off” the gate — they kind of stepped off. It’s not like he threw them headfirst down. So yeah, I wasn’t super impressed with that. But we’ve thought about making a shirt; I just haven’t really pulled the trigger on it.

8. What do you like about the place you grew up? You’re from Mississippi, but I went to your hometown of Olive Branch once and it’s essentially a suburb of Memphis. So I know everybody says you’re from Mississippi, but you’re also kind of from Memphis. Is that fair to say?

If you look at my passport, I was born in Memphis. And then before school ever started, we moved down to Mississippi. Really, everybody in Olive Branch pretty much had their parents grow up in Memphis.

I love being from Mississippi and my roots there. I think everybody who lives in Mississippi is super proud to be from there. I don’t get back near enough now. Luckily, my family and a lot of people come see us at races and come to North Carolina. My mom retires in June, so they will be moving over shortly. But Mississippi is just a lot of hard workers, especially the further south you go with the farmers and a lot of agriculture. It’s people who just go to work and hang out with family.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on returning to Iowa, and the North Wilkesboro fight: 12 Questions (3)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates his 2012 Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway. The NASCAR Cup Series debuts there Sunday. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images for NASCAR)

9. What personality trait are you the most proud of?

I know this is going to sound odd, but for 95 percent of the time, I’m super calm no matter what. My highs aren’t too high and my lows aren’t too low. We won six Xfinity races in 2012 and a lot of people would be like, “Man, you don’t look that excited” after a win. I was more excited for my team and my guys who put all the work in. But on the flip side, I wouldn’t be super pissed if I finished second either. I just was middle of the road.

That’s helped throughout my Cup career because there are so many highs and lows in the sport, especially when you get to this garage. So that’s a good trait to have in the position I’m in.


10. Which driver would you least like to be stuck with on an elevator?

Least like to or like to? I know of one I would like to; I think everybody can figure that out.

I have been stuck on an elevator with (Kyle) Larson.

How long were you guys stuck for?

Like 45 minutes. There was a group of people; it wasn’t just us. We were stuck between floors and they opened the door and we crawled out. We were the first two out.

I’ll just go with (Carson) Hocevar, mainly because if I needed to lay down, he would take up too much room. He’s just too tall.

11. What is a run-in that you’ve had with a driver that TV or the or the media missed?

I don’t really know if there’s ever been one. Not anything close to throwing punches or pushing and shoving. Generally, I will just go talk to people. Like Josh Berry at Kansas, if I didn’t lift, I was gonna get put in the fence. I just went over to him after the race like, “Dang, man …” He goes, “I know. I got super tight.” But I wouldn’t really say that was “getting into it.” I’ve never really had many issues.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one was Jeff Gordon. So he’s going on with the age-old question of “Car or driver? Which is the percentage of which is more important?”

The sucky part about this question is you don’t want to sell the drivers short. But at the same time, you know what it takes to go win. In this day and age, with this (Next Gen) car? I’ll go 70 percent car, 30 driver. It used to be 60-40. And it might even be 75-25 now. But it has definitely gone that way.

Now, it’s odd to say because the cars are so close. I feel like now you almost have to throw strategy in there (as a third category). We weren’t very good at Gateway, but we restarted fifth and we ran the whole second stage in seventh. Like the whole stage. But I felt like we had about a 25th-to-30th-place car in traffic.


The next interview I’m doing is with Christopher Bell. Do you have a question I can ask him?

There was a year he ran the Short Track Nationals in Little Rock, Arkansas (2012). I don’t remember who he was driving for, but he was super young and just getting on the scene. But he ran really well; I think he finished second or third, battled for the win. And I came over and talked to him. I was like, “Hey man, super impressive. Blah, blah, blah.” And like typical Christopher, it was maybe a one-word answer, like, “Thanks.” See if he remembers that.

GO DEEPERAt Sonoma, Chase Briscoe's hopes for a good day amid chaos end on a sour note

(Top photo of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Talladega qualifying in April: Sean Gardner / Getty Images)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on returning to Iowa, and the North Wilkesboro fight: 12 Questions (5)Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on returning to Iowa, and the North Wilkesboro fight: 12 Questions (6)

Jeff Gluck has been traveling on the NASCAR beat since 2007, with stops along the way at USA Today, SB Nation, NASCAR Scene magazine and a Patreon-funded site, JeffGluck.com. He's been hosting tweetups at NASCAR tracks around the country since 2009 and was named to SI's Twitter 100 (the top 100 Twitter accounts in sports) for five straight years.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on returning to Iowa, and the North Wilkesboro fight: 12 Questions (2024)


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