The rising NASCAR driver’s technique is all about crash and learn.
When NASCAR drivers complain of stressful traffic, it’s because their “traffic” is moving 200 mph within inches of their cars. You lose focus, you lose the race. Lucky for NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., his new sponsor happens to be NOS Energy Drink, and he claims a few sips helps him concentrate on the track.
Stenhouse Jr. recently finished second at the Daytona Nationwide Race - impressive considering Stenhouse came from far behind in the final laps before the checkered flag. But he doesn’t see it as even a modest victory. The 2010 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year, and Nationwide Series champ in 2011 is moving up to the prestigious Sprint Cup series. Maximum Exposure host April Rose talked to him about racing, crashing, energy and tried to cheer him up about taking second place at Daytona.
April Rose: You’re getting moved up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which is the equivalent of moving from the minor leagues to the majors. What’s going through your head?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: It’s what everybody strives for growing up racing. It’s one of the top levels of motorsports as far as the best drivers, the best equipment, some of the hardest cars to drive. I put a lot of pressure on myself but it’s the best of the best. Luckily, I have a great organization behind me. It’s going to be challenging but a lot of fun.
Do you get more chicks now?
I try to stay focused on racing. I know to succeed at racing and be the best that I can be, I can’t get distracted. Then again you have to have relationships at some point so I’ll have to pay attention to that sooner or later.
You used to have a good-luck mullet and Maxim favorite Danica Patrick told you that you should fix it.
She wasn’t the only one. [laughs] I think there were a lot of people telling me I should fix it. We were at an autograph session and she asked me to cut it. But we were winning races and running strong so I didn’t want to cut it. Then she wrote a note to my guys -- they didn’t want me to cut it either -- and we cut it. We won without it, so, who cares?
See, you should always listen to the ladies... For a couple more months you’re still the reigning 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, how do you like that title?
That title’s awesome! But I need two in a row so that’s what we’re going for this year. The only way a champion can sound better is two in a row.
You were the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year in 2010. I think every guy wants to be a “rookie of the year.” Did you ever think that was possible?
I didn’t really dream about going as far as we’ve gone. Winning a championship is huge in NASCAR -- doesn’t matter what series you’re in -- and now that we’re getting the opportunity to go full time next year in the Sprint Cup Series, we get to run for rookie of the year again there. So hopefully I can win that and compete for championships.
Lemme get this straight: You’ve been racing since you were three?
I started on BMX bicycles when I was three. I got my first dirt bike when I was four and I’ve been going wide open ever since. I started racing go-karts when I was six. I got into full size dirt, sprint car when I was 15. I’ve been going to races for a long time, watching my dad race, I was six weeks old the first time I went to a race, and haven’t stopped going yet.
Is there anything you want to improve on?
There’s a lot that I need to improve on. Every weekend you’re always looking to improve on something. For example, we finished second at Daytona. You replay things in your head that you want to do differently. Things that you think could have helped you win the race. I need to be a little more patient with my crew guys. If we make an adjustment on our car and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t fix it, I need to sit back and relax and know that we’ve got another pit stop coming up and we can fix it then. That’s what I’m working on now.
Coming in second sounds pretty cool to me, but for a driver I hear it’s not so glamorous.
It’s not. We were the fastest in practice, we qualified on the poll. It was NOS energy drinks’ first time with their branding wrapping the racecar. They’re all about winning and high-performance energy. We almost finished it off…
How close were you to winning?
I don’t even know. I haven’t looked at the replay, but we were right there. So I play it back in my mind all the time like “I should’ve done this” and “I should’ve done that” and “I should’ve gone high, I should’ve gone low.” You beat yourself up over it but the good thing about NASCAR is we race 34 or 35 weekends of the year so there’s always another chance to do better.
Talk to me about the pile ups.
The crashes are exciting. In Daytona, obviously, we’re riding so close together that there are some big crashes. For the most part NASCAR has done an awesome job of developing a car that’s really safe. I don’t feel like I’m in any harm when I’m out there racing. Of course we don’t think about it, we don’t really care. We don’t have any fear of it. We just go into it wanting to go as fast as we can and if you crash, you crash.
Does it get into your head?
No, no you can’t let it. When you crash you have to put it out of your mind and you have to go back into it with no worries. I learned early that you crash a lot but the crashes don’t hurt, so you drive harder. You can’t let it worry you. I think you’ve seen people in the past who’ve had bad wrecks and that kind of slows them down after. But you’ve got to run as hard as you can to keep your job.
Do you have any bad scars or broken bones?
I’ve got a couple of scars on my shoulder, but they’re from when I was younger. While racing go-karts, I flipped and got burnt by the pipe. Really, other than that, there’s not much.
How important is your sponsor to you? Cause it seems like you actually love the stuff.
As a kid I think you’re always like “Man, I love energy drinks. I want to be sponsored by one.” And luckily we’re sponsored by NOS, which is all about high-performance energy. It has ‘Complex Six,’ which not only enhances your brain’s middle focus but it’s also the number of my car. So it’s a good fit all around. I’ll try to drink one right before a race, especially at a place like Daytona where it’s 140 degrees in the cars, and you’re three inches apart from each other, traveling at 195 mph. So you’ve got to have as much focus as you can.
Now you’re moving in the Sprint Cup Series, any different training techniques?
The races are a little bit longer so I don’t know if I’m going to have to drink two NOS’ now. [laughs] The tough part about being in the Sprint Cup Series is that there are 43 guys that are the best in the business, so it’s a huge honor to do it. It’s going to be tough and fun.
Really important question now. Drinking all those energy drinks, Maxim wants to know what happens if you have to go to the bathroom during a race?
Luckily it’s only happened twice but… you just go. As soon as the national anthem is over I usually just sprint to the bathroom and back in time so I don’t have to go during the race.