Most every NASCAR Sprint Cup driver can point to one race that changed their course of their careers. Some of the Ford drivers recalled their life-changing races.
“My first pavement race was in the USAC Silver Crown series at Phoenix and the last-chance race was 10 laps. I started 23rd or something like that, and I had to finish in the top six. The last lap I passed one of my heroes, Jack Hewitt, in turn three and finished fourth and made the show.
“That race changed everything. People started calling me and asking me to drive their race cars after that. That one race, that 10-lap race in 2001, changed everything for me. It was on ESPN … and it was a really cool race. I will always remember that.”
“If I had to pick one race, it would be winning my first Cup race at Daytona in the July race. Everybody’s first Cup win is kind of an iconic moment, but also it was a restrictor-plate win, and in my opinion, those don’t quite carry as much power or cache as a downforce type of racetrack. It is more right place, right time, right lane, right push.
“I almost said my first win at Michigan because of that. That came the year after my Daytona win, and that one was an iconic moment for me. To win on a driver type of racetrack where you have to beat all the guys and compete was a big deal. Then we won at Homestead later that year as well, so I won two races that season. That was a ‘You’ve made it’ moment at that point when you are winning at the top level.”
“All of your wins early in your career kind of set the tone to get you where you are at. One in particular that sticks out is a trucks race in Memphis. I didn’t win the race, but I led a bunch of laps and was on the pole. That one got me noticed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and kind of got me my start. Without that, I don’t know if he notices me and gets me my initial shot at this thing.”
“Winning at Pocono a few years back was so important because there was a lot of talk going on at the time that we weren’t running as well as we needed to, and that propelled me to the opportunity with Roger Penske. That is the biggest win of my life because of that. I look back at other wins, like my first Nationwide win in my third race and being able to win as a rookie, that was important for me to prove myself. That propelled me into a Cup ride.
•Ricky Stenhouse Jr.:
“We won a lot of races through the years, but in 2007 came the biggest win for me. It was two wins in the same night actually. There were sprint cars, midgets and silver crown cars racing out in a USAC race in Phoenix. We won the silver crown and sprint-car race in the same night. Tony Stewart had his cars out there …
“About a month or so after that, one of Tony’s drivers got hurt and since he had seen firsthand what I had done, they asked me to drive for them. He helped talk to Jack (Roush) for me and really got me over to Roush Fenway. I would say that one weekend, that one night, was really big.”
•Trevor Bayne: “The Daytona 500 was definitely the race win that changed my career. It kind of wears off after a little while as far as the glamour of it all. To be a Daytona 500 champion at this point in my career is unbelievable, but we are still fighting hard as if we never won it before. You want to go to the racetrack every year like you have to prove yourself and want to win races. The next race I would like to win would still be the Daytona 500.”