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Before the helmet goes on: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. provides glimpse into Daytona 500 prep

On the final lap, Denny Hamlin made a bold move to get around a blocking Matt Kenseth and held on to edge Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line by .011 seconds to claim his first career Daytona 500 victory.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is not one to listen to music to pump himself up before a race.

One, there’s little time between appearances, driver introductions, greeting sponsors and taking photos before the race

Two, unlike other sports where emotion can play a key role in an athlete’s performance, Stenhouse knows he needs to be calm in the car.

“You’ve got to be focused,’’ Stenhouse said. “I like talking to my crew chief right before to talk about our strategy before the race.’’

Last weekend, Stenhouse shared his thoughts, recording for NBC Sports what he was doing and thinking about in the hours leading up to the Daytona 500, a race in which he finished 22nd.

Stenhouse recorded how he was preparing for the season’s biggest race. Here is what he said:

Saturday, Feb. 20

“Just got done watching the Xfinity race … trying to learn as much as I could. The first race that we’ve seen during the day with the hot temperatures. I think I learned a little bit, definitely want to sleep on it and see if we can’t do something tomorrow with that.

“Right now headed to my Fastenal dinner. Generally, I have a sponsor dinner once a weekend at least, sometimes not at all. But the biggest race of the year, a lot of sponsors are in town, so I’ve got a dinner to do tonight with Fastenal, and then we’ll see what happens after the dinner.”

Saturday night

“It’s about 9:15, just wrapped up dinner with my Fastenal guests and enjoyed some good fish at the Chart House. Headed back to the track and getting ready to call my crew chief Nick Sandler to talk about the strategy for tomorrow and anything else they have in mind of what they saw today during the last practice that we did not run.

“So, go over that with him and probably get back to the bus, and I’ll be watching Supercross, watching, hopefully, Ryan Dungey winning the Supercross race. After that, just get a good night’s sleep. I’m going to try to drink a lot of water tonight. It’s going to be hot tomorrow. So I’ll get a good night’s sleep and get up in the morning ready to go.’’

Saturday night

“I forgot to add while I’m watching Supercross, I’m going to watch some of the USAC races from Ocala (Fla.), some dirt late model from Volusia.

“I like to do that nights before races, it just helps me relax and enjoy racing and what I grew up doing. It kind of takes me back, especially before the Daytona 500, our biggest race of the year.

“You’ve always got to remember where you came from and what got you to this big stage. Came back from dinner and seeing everybody up and partying. To think that they’re here for you and to watch this race that you’re going to be putting on, that’s pretty special.

“It’s our biggest race of the year that we really want to win, really want to have a good showing, get our season kicked off on the right foot. It’s all very humbling, but it’s also a very important race for us.’

Sunday, Feb. 21 (race morning)

“Just got done getting ready. Danica always makes us a good breakfast race day morning. Had bacon, eggs and waffles.

“Getting ready to start my day. Like to get up at least an hour before I have to do my first appearance so that I can hang out, hang out with the dogs and Danica and just kind of a relaxing morning. Getting ready to start my day and head off to appearances and on to the next one and the next one and the next one.

After the drivers meeting

“Just finished up a very long drivers meeting (it lasted 30 minutes), introducing every celebrity, baseball player, politician, president and CEO of every company, which is cool, recognize the people that come to support us and the ones that help support the teams.

“Long drivers meeting, always kind of the same Daytona 500 meeting as far as length of time. Now it’s back in the bus to eat lunch and just relax. Maybe 15, 20 minutes before (driver) intros.

“Got a long race ahead. Been drinking a lot of water, staying hydrating. Nothing else much going on. Just going to relax. Make sure I get relaxed and focused for today’s festivities.

“Big race, mentally draining as far as running three-wide all day. When that happens it tends to run you down a little bit. I’ve got one last call to talk to my spotter, Mike Herman Jr., get a better game plan of what he’s thinking after talking to my crew chief. That’s been our day. Long day. Long morning, but getting ready to get this race underway.

On a golf cart on the way to driver introductions

“Beautiful day out. We’re heading to driver intros. Start 19th, today. We’ll see what happens. The first part of the race just kind of always feel it out.

“My spotter Mike Herman and I just race hard at the beginning. If we get shuffled to the back, we’ll kind of ride it out and race every now and then. Just see how it goes. Hopefully, we can do another video in victory lane.’’

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