DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Chevrolet continued its dominance during qualifying for the Great American Race.
Since 2013, Chevy has led the field to the start of the Daytona 500. A Hendrick engine has won the pole since 2015.
But it wasn’t a familiar face from the Bow-tie camp that captured the pole on Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who changed allegiances over the offseason, earned the top spot for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Making his debut with JTG Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse posted a lap of 194.582mph (46.253-sec.) behind the wheel of the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro for his third career Cup pole. Alex Bowman, who won the 2018 Daytona 500 pole, qualified second.
“It feels way different than the Chevy Camaro that they ran last year,” Stenhouse said with a smirk when asked about the new and improved version of the car. “I'm just kidding. I don't know. It's the best driving Camaro I've ever driven.
“No, it's cool to keep the streak, and it's something that you don't really think about when Mr. Hendrick shows up in Victory Lane knowing that we're running his engine package, going to the engine shop and seeing all the guys a couple weeks ago and just saying hey to them, it's something different that I haven't driven. So to keep the streak alive of the Chevys and Hendrick engines on the pole and on the front row is pretty cool because I know everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing has worked really hard this off‑season, and I think that's what makes it special to me is knowing that those guys put in the effort.
“They put in the work. Not only just the work but they know exactly what to do to make our cars fast, and it's a good way to start our new relationship with JTG.”
Since 2009, the only team Stenhouse, 32, had raced within NASCAR was Roush Fenway Racing. While JTGD had a solid foundation for Stenhouse’s arrival, the ability for the driver to bring some familiar faces with him for the transition was invaluable. Brian Pattie has been his crew chief since 2017. Mike Kelley led Stenhouse to the 2011-2012 Busch Series titles before joining him on the Cup side at Roush as his car chief and crew chief in 2014 and 2016.
To say Stenhouse had a ready-made support group at JTGD was an understatement.
“Brian has done a lot in this sport on the Cup side and has worked with different drivers and different teams,” Stenhouse added. “Mike obviously was with Roush Fenway longer than I was, and for them to follow me over was a lot of confidence that it built up in me that they still felt like I could get the job done, but also they toured the shops, they went through and felt like the resources that JTG Daugherty Racing has are what we need to up our level of competition.
“You know, them being in the shop every day, talking to them on the days that I was out dirt racing, just talking about the things that they were getting done in the shop brought a lot of confidence to me, as well, even when I wasn't at the shop. Having them in there working day in and day out has really helped the transition and helped my confidence.”
The last time JTGD won a pole was in 2015 when AJ Allmendinger swept the top qualifying positions at both Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen. Stenhouse scored the team's third pole and the first on an oval.
Stenhouse credited his open-wheel efforts in the off-season for keeping him sharp despite the different disciplines of racing.
“Yeah, definitely ran more midget races this off‑season than I have in the past few years, and I'm glad I did that,” Stenhouse said. “Just staying in the seat, running more dirt races in a row, got more confidence built up.
“We were fast at quite a few of those races and felt really good and comfortable in the car. Just enjoyed my off‑season, and going to the shop, going dirt racing and just getting prepared for the season, it never hurts when you're behind the wheel of something. I was ready to go when we got here.”
In 256 Cup starts, Stenhouse has scored two wins—both at superspeedways. He has led 97 laps at Daytona and has mad skills when it comes to the 2.5-mile track.
But does Stenhouse feel he has something to prove with his new venture?
“I think there's a handful of us that feel like we have something to prove,” Stenhouse said. “And two of those are in my corner with me at JTG Daugherty Racing with Mike and Brian. I know that I feel like I can still get the job done behind the wheel and win races like we did in the Xfinity Series, and I know Brian believes in what the JTG Daugherty ‑‑ their resources that they have at the race shop, the engines, the Chevys. mean, he just believes in what they have and feel really confident that we're going to be able to show what we both can do together, and I'm excited to continue that relationship.
“That was a huge move for me going over there, bringing people that I'm familiar with that have always been in my corner, and to go to a whole brand new place, I think I'd have been lost not having them there.
“But to see the way they mesh with Jodi and Tad (Geschickter, team owners) and Ernie (Cope, GM), the way they've built that place up, they've smoothed transition right in, and just being at the shop with all the new people that the company has, it's been a good off‑season, but we definitely have something to prove.”