DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. avoided costly wrecks and ran a disciplined race and ended up winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday night — taking himself and his race team to a place they’d never been before.
But Sunday’s history extended well beyond the driver.
It reached across the whole sport.
JTG Daugherty Racing won its first Daytona 500 as a race team this weekend, and that makes Brad Daugherty the first Black principle owner to win NASCAR’s biggest race. The 7-foot former North Carolina Tar Heels basketball legend is one of two Black principle owners of race teams with Cup charters; the other is Michael Jordan of 23XI Racing.
Daugherty wasn’t present at Daytona International Speedway. (Recent eye surgery prevented him from being in the Florida sun, the race team said.) But news quickly got to him that Stenhouse won.
“I talked to him for a few minutes,” JTG Daugherty part-owner Jodi Geschickter said. She then laughed: “He said that he and Michael Jordan are already talking trash.”
JTG Daugherty Racing is among the most diverse race teams in NASCAR. And that’s reflected in ownership beyond Daugherty: With Stenhouse’s win, Geschickter becomes the second female owner to win a Daytona 500. (Teresa Earnhardt won four Daytona 500s, per NASCAR — in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2010.)
Geschickter — who runs the race team with her husband, Tad — said it never occurred to her that she’d made such history when Stenhouse earned a trip to victory lane.
“It was more about the team and more about my partnership with my husband, and doing this project with him,” Geschickter said. “He’s always been a huge supporter of me, and we’re a great support system for each other.”
Tad Geschickter said that America doesn’t look like how the NASCAR garage has looked for the past 55 years — and that racing should reflect the American people.
“Everyone has different points of view and different talents and treasures,” he said. “And Brad certainly adds a different element to what we do, a different thinking, a different background, and I think that’s the same way for our engineers, our tire-changers, our drivers. It’s sorely needed.
“NASCAR has done the heavy lifting to really call that out as a priority, and we’re going to keep digging in that direction.”
The Geschickters are embarking on their 29th season in racing — running a company that started out in Waxhaw at a house with “racecars on one side” and “chickens on another.” They joined the NASCAR Cup Series in 2009, always among the smaller teams in NASCAR’s premier level, and now they own one of the few Cup teams with one car.
Sunday’s win was especially meaningful to them considering all they’d been through in their decades working together. From times that they woke up pondering the question: Is this still the path we’re meant to be on?
“I would say this: For a team our size, COVID was not good,” Tad said. “We create product demand. Our sponsors didn’t have a demand problem, they had a supply problem. … It was a tough two years. And when it gets lean like that, after 28, 29 years of doing it, yeah, you start wondering, ‘Man, are we going to be able to turn on the lights in a year?’
“But man, you just keep praying about it. You keep digging. You don’t give up. Folks from Kroger stick behind us, you know, Gordon sticks behind us — everyone just keeps believing and we came out the other side.”
He said that teams “lined up outside the gate” asking if they could purchase their charter from them during those two COVID years.
“I’m not gonna tell you there aren’t mornings where it’s like, ‘Oooh I don’t know,’” Tad continued. “At the beginning, there were a lot of Ramen noodles and instant potatoes when we were starting the race team. It got back to that pretty quick. But it’s getting better now.”
Said Jodi Geschickter: “Every morning, I get up and put on my shoes in peace, and I go out. But make no mistake: This is a battle. The competition in this series is fierce, and it’s serious, and we’re blessed to have the partners that we have, but it’s a battle. It’s a fight. And it’s not for a lack of effort — we’ve come really close. I try not to get our hopes up.
“Like tonight, when we were close, and it was the last lap, and there was another caution, I said, ‘Dear Lord, please. We need it. We need it, and we need it now. We need it to happen.’”
Her prayers were answered.
So were her sponsors’ prayers and her husband’s prayers.
And that resulted in history.
When asked if this win meant might propel the spouses to another handful of years as team owners — a renewed faith in this long-held dream they’re living — Tad laughed.
“That’s an interesting question,” he said. “I think you don’t think about quitting. I think you just keep digging, keep finding the next challenge and trying to conquer it. … This puts more wind in your sails for sure; it just makes you dig harder and faster for the next one.”