Ricky Stenhouse Jr. livin' the dream

November, 20, 2011

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Before this interview begins, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is asked to take off the dark sunglasses, the ones he's been wearing most of Sunday regardless of whether he has been in the bright South Florida sun or inside.

The person beside him asks why.

Stenhouse understands.

"Because I've been up all night," he explains.

Yes, the 24-year-old celebrated the Nationwide Series title he clinched on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in fine fashion. He partied all night at one of the hottest clubs on South Beach, then watched the sun come up on the beach wearing a black cowboy hat and holding on to his trophy like a baby would a favorite blanket.

From there he drove back to the speedway for a breakfast and later a tweet-up with fans. Then it was off to appearance after appearance after appearance.

"I've been up since 8 a.m. on Saturday," Stenhouse says around 2 p.m., now 30 hours without sleep and counting.

Stenhouse doesn't care. Less than two years from seeing his driving future in jeopardy, when he seemingly was wrecking more cars than he wasn't, the 24-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver is living the dream.

Kudos to NASCAR for revamping the system to give non-full-time Sprint Cup drivers a chance to win the title, which hadn't happened since Martin Truex Jr. in 2005. That the governing body got Stenhouse as its champion is a plus. He represents a fresh young face that the sport needs.

The genuine emotion that Stenhouse showed on Saturday as he stood on the main stage meant far more to the sport than seeing a Cup driver basking in the spotlight for a sixth straight year. Stenhouse's only regret is that his car finished third in the owners' championship.

That went to the No. 60 RFR car in which Cup driver Carl Edwards won eight races, followed by the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car in which Cup driver Kyle Busch won eight times.

"Next year we want to win both," Stenhouse says.

He says it with the zest one wouldn't expect from someone who has been up all night. He says it with the determination that makes one believe he can do it.

"That would be a big thing to hang our hats on," Stenhouse says.

The sad part of this story is the economy hasn't recovered to the point that Stenhouse has secured sponsorship to defend his title. The happy ending is he has the word of team owner Jack Roush that he will get that opportunity.

"Worst-case scenario, we'll be in a car doing the same thing we did this year," Stenhouse says.

A young woman stops to hug Stenhouse. Then another.

Then it's off to another appearance, back to South Beach for a few hours of R&R on the beach and eventually back to the track for a late-night champion's photograph session.

Stenhouse's eyes may be red, but sleep is overrated when you're in the midst of a dream.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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