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FORT WORTH, United States - Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. goes into this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway leading the point standings for the first time in his career. He spoke with Ford Racing about that accomplishment and how he has turned things around from a year ago.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL BEING THE POINTS LEADER GOING IN TO TEXAS THIS WEEKEND?
A. I feel really, really good about it. It was cool going into the off weekend having the points lead because at least we got to hold it for two weeks, but we plan on holding it a little longer than that. That’s our goal, but coming in to Texas we feel really good about our Mustang. We’re gonna have EasyFeet on the car and I’m glad to have them back. We were really fast with them on the car at Las Vegas and I felt like it was unfortunate the way the fuel mileage worked out and the cautions, but we’re gonna try to not let that happen this weekend at Texas.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TRACK AT TEXAS?
A. That track fits me really well. It’s losing a little bit of grip, but, overall, it’s a fast track. You run a lot of throttle, which I like to do. I don’t like to lift too much. It’s hard in between my brain and my right foot to tell me to lift, so it’s a good track for us. We were fast there last year and led some laps, and I really want one of those cowboy hats to go with my boots, so, hopefully, we can do that. Texas is a place that I really enjoy and that’s one that we want to win, not only for ourselves but for Mustang and Ford Racing. I want to be the guy and I want our team to be the one that gets Mustang that first win.
Q. IT SEEMED YOUR SEASON A YEAR AGO TURNED AROUND FOR THE BETTER WHEN MUSTANG DEBUTED AT DAYTONA. DO YOU AGREE?
A. That’s exactly where it turned around, and I think the Mustang had a little bit to do with that. For some reason, every time we got in the Mustang at the end of the year for those four races I was more comfortable with it, I could feel the car better, I felt like I gave better feedback and I felt like we were faster than we had been in our Ford Fusions and the older car, so I definitely do think that played a role in it.
Q. CAN YOU COMPARE WHERE YOU WERE A YEAR AGO AS A DRIVER TO TODAY?
A. I don’t think I’m any faster as a race car driver. I felt like I’ve always had the speed and was always able to put a fast lap down and get around the race track, but I feel like I’m a little smarter as a race car driver. I think things through a lot more. I’m looking at risk versus reward on a few things and I think that’s helping us right now to finish races and finish up front and run really well. I feel like I give better feedback than I did last year and it’s just a lot of little things that are adding up for us this year.
Q. DOES IT JUST COME DOWN TO EXPERIENCE AND GETTING MORE TIME BEHIND THE WHEEL?
A. I think it’s experience, but, obviously a light bulb came on because it was kind of night and day between the beginning of last year and the end, and definitely the start of this year. I think there’s a light bulb there, but I think experience does play a key role in it.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE NEW POINT SYSTEM AND DRIVERS HAVING TO DECLARE WHICH SERIES THEY WANT TO RUN FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? YOU’RE LEADING THE POINTS, BUT CUP GUYS HAVE WON ALL THE NNS RACES SO FAR.
A. I like the Cup guys coming and running with us. I feel like I learn a lot from them. I feel like I gain more respect and I feel like they up my game a little bit because if they weren’t at California, we’re winning the and maybe I’m not pushing as hard or trying to make our car as good. So I feel like they push the competition. I do think that it’s cool Nationwide has its own identity and the series is gonna have their own driver as a champion. Hopefully, that will be us, but I definitely want those Cup guys to keep coming and running with us because they put fans in the stands, which is really important, and they bring sponsorship to the races and the race cars. I feel like I learn a lot from them and can gain some respect, and if I can run with them on Saturdays, then once I do get the opportunity to run on Sundays, I’ll feel like I’m more prepared.
Q. IS THERE A RACE WITHIN THE RACE FOR YOU AS FAR AS KNOWING WHERE YOUR NATIONWIDE POINTS RIVALS ARE VERSUS THE CUP GUYS YOU MIGHT BE RACING UP FRONT?
A. When we were at California a couple of weeks ago I would catch myself looking at the scoring monitor and looking to see where everybody was because I knew I only had to get two points to beat Jason Leffler and get the points lead. I was looking to see where he was in comparison to me and whether or not it was possible for us to come out of there with the points lead. With the new point structure, it’s easy to keep up with that way, so I definitely pay attention to where they are on the track.
Q. IT’S STILL SO EARLY IN THE SEASON, BUT IT MUST MAKE LIFE MORE FUN AND THE RACE SHOP MUST BE AN EXCITING PLACE TO BE RIGHT NOW, RIGHT?
A. It’s definitely a lot of fun, but another thing that makes it fun is having fast race cars. Ford Racing has helped us out with some engineers and I feel like they’ve helped out our program. Roush Yates Engines has done an awesome job with the new FR9 and it’s running really crisp and fast, and everybody at Roush Fenway is building good chassis and bodies and putting all the components on there that make it go fast. That is what’s fun – jumping in the race car right off the truck and knowing it’s gonna have speed and you’re gonna have something you can work around and win. That’s what makes it fun and everything else comes along with it like leading the points. You don’t lead the points unless you have a fast race car, but leading the points does kind of get everybody pumped up and, hopefully, we can stay that way for the whole year and be really excited after Homestead.