TALLADEGA, Al— For the first time of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was victorious in the GEICO 500 from Talladega Superspeedway after a late race charge to the front in a green, white, checkered scenario. Stenhouse Jr. was able to hold off Kyle Busch in the final two laps to head towards victory. This is Roush-Fenway’s first victory since Carl Edwards went to victory lane in 2014 at Sonoma. This is Ford’s fifth win in a row on restrictor plate tracks.
“This is for all the guys at the shop. We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good race track for us. It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson,” Stenhouse Jr. stated. “He was with us on that last lap. This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win. I can’t say enough about the guys. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in Victory Lane, Ford Performance, Fastenal, Sunny D. I’m gonna have a Sunny D in the morning, maybe a little later. This is cool. The closest race track to my hometown and the fans were out here this weekend.”
Jamie McMurray finished in the second position. McMurray was quiet throughout much of the day at Talladega, despite a few spotters complaining in the early stages of the race about his driving style and potentially causing a wreck.
“I mean it’s really circumstantial as to what the guys do in front of you and what is happening behind you. I just got a run at the right time. I thought the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) was going to get a little bit further out, but when we were coming to the line it just seemed like his car wasn’t going at that point, so it was a good finish. It was a great race,” said McMurray I’m glad everybody is okay, that was a really scary wreck on the backstretch, but really good day for our McDonald’s Chevrolet. We had good pit stops and the guys did a great job.”
Ky. Busch was leading the race at the advertised distance of 188 laps, but a late race caution sent the race in overtime ultimately sending him to a third place finish. Busch was not a happy camper when it came to the GEICO 500.
“When they have too big of a run and you can’t do anything about it. (Ricky) Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us there and then it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together. I just can’t say enough about this Skittles American Mix Camry – it was really fast,” said Ky. Busch. “The guys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job and TRD with everyone on this motor, it was awesome. We did all we could here today and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we’ll try to win there.”
Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and David Ragan rounded out the top-10.
Kyle Larson still holds the points lead over Martin Truex, Jr by 54 points. Keselowski is 61 points back in third, Chase Elliott is 75 points back in fourth, and McMurray rounds out the top-five in points only 110 back from Larson.
The GEICO 500 was slowed eight times for 33 laps. There was one red flag period for a total of 26 minutes and 51 seconds. There were 26 different lead changes amongst 14 different drivers with Ky. Busch leading the most at 48 laps. The first two stages were one by Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. The time of the race was three hours, 29 minutes, and 16 seconds.
Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is a Saturday night trip to Kansas Speedway for the Go Bowling 400.
RIDGEWAY, Va.— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch had at it during Sunday’s running of the STP 500.
In the second stage of the race, that ran from laps 130 to 260, Busch was setting a blistering pace lapping the field up to 17th position.
Early in the stage as Busch was about to lap Stenhouse Jr., but Stenhouse did not help but put on a fight with Busch. Stenhouse was not happy with Busch and was going to let him know it the next chance he got.
The opportunity for Stenhouse came on the final lap of stage two. Stenhouse was able to get to the bumper of Busch. Busch went higher than normal in the fourth turn because he was running a lane above where the rubber was being laid down. Stenhouse went low on Busch sending him up the racetrack. Stenhouse was able to get his lap back, and give Chase Elliott the stage win and playoff point.
After the race, Stenhouse mentioned that he had to do it for his team and sponsors to stay on the lead lap.
However, Busch had a different story to tell after the conclusion of the race.
“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let the 17 back by and give him the lap. That was my intent, and then he just drove through me. It cost me my spot to the 24, so I was hoping the I could rn off the corner side by side with the 17 and keep the 24 at bay and just keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment, and I was trying to be a nice guy, but nice guys don’t finish first,” said Busch.
Busch mentioned that he felt disrespected by Stenhouse as he was banging him (Busch) into the corners. Busch also mentions that this incident will come back and bite Stenhouse at a later date.
“You’ve just got to remember race car drivers are like elephants; they remember everything.”
Busch finished second in the STP 500, while Stenhouse Jr finished 10th.
In a media availability on Friday with Truex and Garone, the idea of a second car was hinted by Joe Garone, general manager of Furniture Row.. “It’s certainly a part of it for the growth of the team. It’s been over this journey we started off and Barney (Visser, team owner), his company has funded our car all along and are still there, but Bass Pro Shops really coming onboard this last year has really opened up a door for other sponsorships. And, it’s kind of settled us to where we feel we’re getting strong enough to support a second effort and it’s no secret we’ve been working on that and we’ll see where that takes us. If we can get it all pulled together it will be ’17. Yep.”
However, after weeks of speculation and a preliminary report by Motorsport.com, Furniture Row Racing made it official Sunday before the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen that Erik Jones will move from NASCAR Xfinity Series competition to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in 2017 to field a second car for Furniture Row, alongside Martin Truex Jr., who re-signed this week with a two-year contract extension. 5-hour ENERGY will be the primary sponsor for the new no. 77 Toyota, leaving their current sponsorship of Clint Bowyer, driver of the no. 15 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet.
Barney Visser, owner of Furniture Row Racing, explains how quickly this deal came together. "We're very excited to have all the components of a second race team pulled together here. It's all come together in the last month.To find a driver like Erik, a sponsor like 5-Hour ENERGY, along with our technical agreement with Gibbs, we think we're going to be able to run right up where we need to run. We're very excited to get it all pulled together here.”
Rise Meguiar, vice president of Living Essentials, was also in attendance in today’s press conference. “They came to us and presented the program for Erik. I've been watching Erik and seen his talent in both series. We have watched what Furniture Row has done with the car that they have. We just felt that it was going to be a good place for us to be. It was just a really good fit.”
"It's hard to say I'm not excited but anxious at the same time, anxious for this day, and excited to be here. It's pretty cool for me to be partnered up with Furniture Row and be part of them growing and part of 5-Hour, too. To have such a big company like that be partnered with me is pretty cool this early in my racing career and something I've always wanted,” said Jones of his new partnership with Furniture Row and 5-hour ENERGY.
Toyota Racing Development is pumped to have a new team in Sprint Cup Series competition. "I think Erik ascending to the Cup level, for Toyota, this is the first time a Toyota driver has grown from the grassroots ranks all the way through NASCAR's national series. I think it's a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development USA.
Furniture Row Racing will be seeking charter status for the no.77 entry in 2017. "There's several charters out there that we're hearing are available. We've been looking at it some. We're not exactly sure where we're going to be on that. We are going to get a charter, but we're not sure who we're going to get it from yet,” said Visser.
Adding a second team, according to Garone, will not affect day-to-day operations because the team has already begun modifying the shop in Denver, Colorado to accommodate two cars.
Visser and Furniture Row hope the one-year deal with Jones will turn into many more to come.
5-Hour ENERGY will also be proudly displayed for two races on Martin Truex Jr.’s car, which includes the NASCAR All-Star Race in 2017.
Jones is the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. He currently holds the top seed in the Xfinity Chase with three wins. He has clinched 11 top-five finishes in 2016. He also has six poles under his belt in 2016. With an average start of 2.7, Jones has an average finish of 11.4. Jones has a couple NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts under his belt from 2017, filling in for Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth in 2015. Jones also filled in for Denny Hamlin in Sprint Cup competition during the Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer at Bristol Motor Speedway in early 2016.
With a one car operation, Furniture Row has clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in three of the last four years. In 2016, the team has one win, three top-five’s, three poles, an average start of 9.6, and an average finish of 13.4.
It has taken time for Blake Koch to get his name out into the NASCAR world. He’s probably one of, if not, the most laid back driver in the entire sport. There is something different about this 28-year-old from all of the other drivers around his age group in NASCAR. He isn’t your stereotypical racer, however, and his journey is quite remarkable.
Have there been times where you were just so bored that you went on Google and typed in: How do I become a NASCAR driver? If so, you aren’t alone. As a 20-year-old attending the Northwood University located in Michigan, Koch wasn’t bored, but he really wanted to become a racecar driver.
“I was 20-years-old living in Florida – going to college," Koch said over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. "My step-dad called me and said ‘I’m thinking of buying a racecar, would you want to drive it?’ I said ‘sure.’ He bought a Pro Truck and I went to race it in the Pro Truck Series in Florida. We raced at New Smyrna and tracks like that. I started racing and ran about five times. I won my first race and was running really competitive right off the bat. People were telling me that I have what it takes and that I can make something out of it. I took that to heart. I went on Google and Googled how to become a NASCAR driver and the results that came up were all driver development programs."
“I didn’t Google how to drive a racecar, I just Googled how to get into the industry. From there, it has just been a lot of ups and downs, but more ups than downs. I have climbed the NASCAR ladder quicker than most, and I have stayed in this sport for quite a while. Obviously, I feel like it is a plan that G-D had for me to be here, and if he didn’t – I wouldn’t be here. You just have to continue to build relationships, become a better driver and keep learning.”
In the process, he came across Richard Childress Racing. The team had previously signed David Mayhew to a developmental contract in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Moreover, they saw Koch’s raw ability and decided to give him a shot. As he worked his way through the stock car ranks, he has fought plenty of adversity. But that adversity is what has made him the man he has become today.
“There are ups and downs and you really have to appreciate the ups," Koch said over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. "2011 was my rookie year and we raced the full season, and we had a lot of ups and downs. There were a lot of good runs and bad runs. You learn from it. A couple of years later, you are doing the same thing. It’s not exactly what you want to – you want to be winning races. You can’t take for granted that you are racing in a NASCAR series professionally and that can end any day. You really have to appreciate what you have."
After racing for full-time teams, Koch bounced around with some smaller organizations. It wasn’t due to a lack of talent. However, a dramatic decrease in sponsorship dollars has made Koch race fewer full races than he would have ever believed.
There have been races in which he has raced fewer than five laps. Sometimes, he has raced just one lap. It’s not what he wants. It’s not what the team wants, either. But until he secures more sponsorship, Koch will have to keep starting and parking.
This season, the 28-year-old Florida native is racing for TriStar Motorsports. As a teammate to Mike Bliss, Eric McClure and Jeff Green – Koch has the ability to go to veterans for feedback. This weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway, he will be making his 100th career start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but he will park his car early in the race for the ninth time this year, and the 41st time in those 100 events.
“You get all of the Tweets and Facebook messages about why did you only run a couple of laps, and it is hard to explain it. It is hard to go to the autograph sessions and hear people telling you that they hope you win when you are a start and parker. That’s the hardest part about it – disappointing the fans. As a driver, it is tough because you can’t race the way you intend to on the weekends, but you have to make the race in qualifying,” he said on starting and parking. “My race that weekend is trying to learn more about the car to help my teammates and do anything I can because I know that I will have another race coming up soon. That is part of my job right now at this point in my career. I have to get out of the car with a smile on my face and wait until I get to race a full race.”
However, this year has been different – a good different. With TriStar Motorsports, there have been a few events that Koch has run without a primary sponsor. It is not the most ideal situation, but he has made the most of those opportunities. In five races while piloting the No. 44 Toyota, he has a pair of top-20 finishes and hasn’t finished worse than 24th. Although he has to swap seats to the No. 10 car when he can’t find funding to race a full event, Koch has made the most out of his situation.
Due to his perseverance, Koch made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut last year – driving the No. 95 Ford for Leavine Family Racing. Once again, his day ended early. But there is nothing like getting some laps in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. All of his hard work paid off that evening, and it showed as he has earned more opportunities at NASCAR’s top-tier division after starting out in motocross as a nine-year-old.
“I realized how difficult the Sprint Cup Series is. It is not only how good the drivers are, but it is how good the team members are – the mechanics, spotters, crew chiefs, engineers and just everybody. I went to Phoenix this year with Front Row (Motorsports) and I felt like we got my car handling pretty well. In qualifying, I probably drove one of the best laps of my life and I was like ‘that’s all it has.’ They told me ‘alright good job, man.You qualified 37th – we made the race.’ I was like what, I thought that was a pole lap.”
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, all eyes were focused on this young man. He had the opportunity of a life time. RAB Racing signed him to a one-race deal. It was arguably the most important race he has run up until this point in his career. At the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Koch qualified on the outside pole to Sam Hornish Jr., and ran inside of the top-10 throughout the race. However, he finished 11th. But that was OK. He proved he has undeniable talent, and if he had a shot to race on a weekly basis, those top-10s would certainly come.
“No matter what stuff I am in, I try to drive the car as hard as I can and give good information to my crew chief, whether it is for one lap or the entire race," he said. "I don’t consider myself a start and park driver. I consider myself to have a job in racing and can stay sharp and be in the car every week. When I get to run the full race, I will be able to make the most out of it.”
Throughout his journey, he has signed multiple companies to sponsorship deals. Most of the time, the packages are only for a handful of events, if that. However, something is better than nothing, and this is where Koch’s faith comes into play.
“On race weekend, a couple of us drivers get together for a Bible study," Koch said on his pre-race rituals. "We make sure that we get together and pray together and study the Bible together and learn together. When I get in the car, I just pray and thank G-D for the opportunity to drive a race car for a living."
“When you have a relationship with G-D, you put G-D first in your life. Whether that is your family life or work life. When you talk with a Christian like me, you hear a lot about G-D because that is a very important part of your life.”
And that is the mentality that Koch uses each time he breathes. It’s the mentality he uses every time he straps into a racecar. Most importantly, it’s the mentality he uses when he is with his son, Carter, who was born in 2012.
Ever since his son was born, Koch’s life has changed dramatically. He has a different outlook on life now. Preceding his son’s birth, he already had a spiritual mindset. However, once Carter was born, Koch truly understood what his goal is in life outside of the race track.
“It has been the biggest change of my life. You see that baby and you never thought you could love something so much. You look at a child and you can’t believe it’s yours. On the other side, you have the responsibility now. You aren’t a kid anymore. You have a child to take care of. You are responsible for him growing up to be a great, young man,” Koch said as you can hear his enthusiasm increasing. “For me, I want him to be a successful, G-Dly young man as he grows up. That’s a responsibility I really want to take on. It has been life changing. When I get home from the races, on the flight home – I just can’t wait to see my wife and my son. When he runs up and yells ‘da da,’ it is a feeling you can’t explain to somebody.”
Now, the next part of this young man’s journey is starting to begin.
Even though this year is barely past the half-way mark, Koch has a lot to look forward to. He raced back-to-back events with Go FAS Racing at Charlotte and Dover – improving his results each time he was in the car compared to those in his first two career starts. Opportunities with smaller teams might not be what he wants, but he is just fortunate for the chance to do so after searching through driver development teams a mere eight years ago.
As of now, Koch is unsure of his plans for 2015. Nationwide Series teams usually plan out their driver lineup slightly later than the Cup Series organizations, which will give him a little more time to piece together funding. However, he has already begun to work on sponsorship packages for next year. If you look on Koch’s social media pages, you will notice he tries to mention all of his sponsors as frequently as possible.
With his newest sponsor, Celsius Energy Drink, he is taking part in their 10-week challenge. As an avid fitness guru, Koch works out approximately 1.5 hours per day during the week to improve his on-track performance. With the Celsius challenge, he has moved some focus over from training for triathlons to working on strength training. Twice a day, he will drink Celsius as he eats seven meals throughout a 24-hour span.
If he can convince companies like Celsius or Salt Life since he is an avid fisherman as well, Koch knows he can take those top-25s and turn them into top-15s and maybe even top-10s on a consistent basis. At this point in time, it is just too hard for a driver to sell a full season package to one company, so he is trying to sell a bunch of multi-race deals, and the more races he can compete within will give him a larger chance to race full-time in 2015.
“The most difficult part is probably that you get behind," he explained on racing part-time. "Every year, I am able to go into Daytona with a sponsor because I have the off-season to work on selling it. I might have the first five races or so, but once you are at race four and you don’t have the sixth race sold, you are kind of out of time. By the time you close the deal, there are a couple of races that you have to start and park. Then, you have the next Daytona sold. By the time of Daytona, you are already backed up. The hardest part is just getting it all done early enough."
“If you are a driver asked to come up with a certain amount of money to race, then it is pretty difficult to do it week by week. You have to sell most of your season before your season starts or else you fall behind. The good thing about my situation is that I’m with a consistent team every week. When I get to race, I’m with the No. 44 team and I can show what they are doing, where the results are and stuff like that. I can sell that program because it runs well. It’s tough when you are starting and parking and trying to race that car in particular.”