Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Won the 2023 Daytona 500 for Dirt Racers, Too

Stenhouse Jr. is beloved by dirt fans and hated by plenty of others, but he kept himself in check to win on Sunday.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Won the 2023 Daytona 500 for Dirt Racers, Too © Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Won the 2023 Daytona 500 for Dirt Racers, Too

It's my guess that you didn't bet on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning Sunday's running of the 2023 Daytona 500. If you did, then you're probably looking at a handsome payday since he faced +4000 odds going into it. The 35-year-old took the green flag with two Cup Series victories beforehand, and all of JTG Daugherty Rac

ing's hopes rested on him in the team's lone car. After 212 laps, 530 miles, and a ton of crashes that a younger Stenhouse Jr. undoubtedly would've been involved in, he nabbed the checkered to celebrate the biggest win of his career.

Not bad for a dirt racer from Olive Branch, Mississippi.

While Stenhouse Jr. began in karts, he transitioned to 360-cubic-inch sprints as a teenager. He gained notoriety after his standout start in USAC, which saw him take home 2007 Rookie of the Year honors in the sanctioning body's sprint car and midget series. Around the same time he really started tearing up short tracks in winged machines, he wheeled an ARCA stock car to two victories in 2008.

Dirt racing has consistently found a place on Stenhouse Jr.'s schedule ever since, both as a driver and team owner. He remained dedicated to it after landing a NASCAR ride in 2009, as well as through his full-time efforts at Roush Fenway and JTG Daugherty. It's a big part of what's drawn grassroots racing fans to Stenhouse Jr. as a driver—he never bailed on the niche that they're so intensely passionate about. For every fan that loathes Stenhouse Jr. over some previous crash involving their favorite driver, I'd argue there's another that appreciates him for his involvement in World of Outlaws or the Chili Bowl.

Now, Stenhouse Jr. had some success at Daytona prior to this Sunday. He won the summer race at the track in 2017, and he took pole position for the 2020 Daytona 500. However, haters link him to Daytona by way of the 2018 summer race that saw him initiate a nasty 20-car crash. Stenhouse Jr. received a security escort later that night, continuing a years-long narrative that he was a danger to the rest of the field.

"I feel like I've put myself in some bad spots throughout my career, but the faster we get our cars, the more I can take care of them and still run them close to the front," Stenhouse told Fox Sports. "It's something I've always tried to do, sometimes at my expense, [to] try and take a car and try and get way more out of it than what's there. 

"I feel like that's my job to do as a race car driver, is to get the most speed out of a race car that you can, but also in this sport you've got to take care of it, and you can't just leave it all out there every single race."

Helping him bury that story arc is the fact that Stenhouse Jr. had to dance through a ton of wreckage to win this past weekend. Despite clean running for the first 118 laps, the race's second half was marred by near-constant cautions. It went into double overtime and became the longest Daytona 500 in history by distance, beating 2020's race by three laps and 7.5 miles.

By leading Joey Logano across the finish line, Stenhouse Jr. won the crash fest and achieved something that other dirt racers turned stock car drivers couldn't. He's just the fifth pilot to win a a USAC Silver Crown, National Sprint Car, and National Midget feature as well as the Daytona 500. The others? Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman.

Tony Stewart, who tried many times but never won the Daytona 500, congratulated Stenhouse Jr. after the race:

Now Stenhouse Jr. can rest at least a little easier knowing he's accomplished NASCAR's ultimate feat. Other Cup Series drivers that come from a dirt background like Christopher Bell—who finished third on Sunday—are next to prove they can win on stock car racing's biggest stage. Either way, you can bet the short-track community is proud of their boy for sticking it out.

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