The grind of a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver doesn’t often allow for much extracurricular racing. But that’s not stopping Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from extending his Sprint Car calendar in 2024.
The pilot of the JTG Daugherty Racing #47 at NASCAR’s top level has hopes of more returns to his roots throughout the year. That mission begins with a trip to Volusia Speedway Park’s Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout in three weeks (Jan. 25-27). The three nights of 360 Sprint Car action features the richest purse in United Sprint Car Series (USCS) history and concludes with a $10,000-to-win finale.
A couple weeks before winning his first Daytona 500 last year, Stenhouse Jr. posted a pair of podiums at the inaugural Southern Sprint Car Shootout. Coming close to victory in 2023 has the Olive Branch, MS native eager for a return to the half mile with Victory Lane on his mind.
“I like getting in a race car before, I guess, the real season starts for me,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “Anytime I get in a Sprint Car I feel like it keeps me sharp. I definitely think I’m more prepared for anytime I get in my Cup car. So, going and racing Volusia is going to be a lot of fun. Racing with my dad, we had a lot of fun there last year. We came up a few spots short a couple of the nights and felt like we had a car capable of winning, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting back down there.”
The trio of races will be the first of what Stenhouse Jr. intends to be a larger presence behind the wheel of a Sprint Car this season. He stays closely involved in the sport all year long via ownership of the Stenhouse Jr.-Marshall Racing #17 wheeled by Sheldon Haudenschild. As an owner, Stenhouse Jr. has collected 35 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car victories. But he’s been making the effort for his involvement to grow with more laps of his own.
“We definitely have a schedule that we’re working on,” Stenhouse Jr. explained. “Things are looking good to run more Sprint Car races. I got my dad’s operation a little bit more dialed in, and he’s ready to go race as much as we can.”
Stenhouse Jr. plans for more Sprint Car races in 2024 (Chris Owens Photo)
Stenhouse Jr. climbed aboard a Sprint Car nine times in 2023 and collected a pair of wins at Talladega Short Track with USCS. He’s found that while readjusting to a Sprint Car can present challenges, it’s beneficial overall.
“Sometimes I would say it’s pretty easy, and sometimes I would say no it’s pretty difficult,” Stenhouse Jr. said of regaining the feel of a Sprint Car. “It just kind of depends. I felt like last year anytime we jumped in the 360 I felt pretty comfortable, and I would say it’s kind of 50/50 on the 410 stuff.
“Things happen so fast in Sprint Car racing. Lines change. You’ve got to adjust what you’re doing in the race car. The horsepower to weight ratio compared to the Cup cars. Things just happen really fast. I think that’s what helps be race ready when it comes to getting in the stock car on Sundays. I feel like even though we’re going faster, things almost happen a little bit slower.”
Stenhouse Jr. will get reacquainted with a Sprint Car in a few short weeks when the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout gets rolling. He expects to be among a stout field that’s ready to chase their share of the richest event in USCS history.
“I know they’ve put a lot more effort into the event,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of race cars there, and it should be a good time. I’m looking forward to it. My dad is getting our car put back together and going through everything, making sure our engine is where it needs to be. He’s pumped up about it, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting back down there.”