Football and racing: NASCAR’s Stenhouse visits practice

Driver in town to promote May’s Darlington race

dmclemore@thestate.comApril 9, 2013 

Steve Spurrier’s golf cart made a pit stop outside South Carolina’s football practice Tuesday so the legendary coach could meet one of NASCAR’s up-and-coming drivers.

It wasn’t long after he shook the hand of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that Spurrier had an idea for a photo opportunity.

Stenhouse had his No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion on display outside The Proving Grounds on Bluff Road. Spurrier has a No. 17 behind the wheel of the Gamecocks’ offense and looked around for quarterback Dylan Thompson, who was inside warming up.

“See if you can get him to come out here,” Spurrier said to a colleague.

The 25-year-old Stenhouse was at practice to promote the Bojangles’ Southern 500, which takes place May 11 at Darlington Raceway.

Spurrier is a regular in recent years at the Daytona 500. He and Stenhouse on Tuesday spoke about NASCAR, spring football practice and, of course, Jadeveon Clowney’s now beyond-famous hit during the Outback Bowl.

“That was a good hit,” Stenhouse said. “You got a lot of play on that.”

“That was the hit that keeps on hitting,” Spurrier said. “ESPN seems to run it once or twice a day.”

Would Clowney make a good jack man?

“I think he would be really good,” Stenhouse said. “I’m not sure he would need the jack though. He’s definitely fun to watch.”

Stenhouse asked Spurrier about Connor Shaw’s injury. Spurrier did not ask about Stenhouse’s girlfriend Danica Patrick, but the media did.

The subject isn’t as hot a topic as it was when NASCAR’s season began, Stenhouse said. Both drivers are rookies on the Sprint Cup series, and there is competition between the two on the track.

“We both want to win rookie of the year,” he said.

Stenhouse, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing, is 15th in the Sprint Cup standings through six races. He won back-to back Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and 2012. He won the pole at Darlington last year in the Nationwide race and is targeting a top-10 finish in this year’s Southern 500.

Stenhouse grew up in Mississippi and said he was a fan of Ole Miss and the SEC as a whole. He followed Steve Spurrier’s career at Florida and on to South Carolina.

He didn’t know a lot about the Gamecocks before Tuesday’s visit but said there are plenty of South Carolina fans in the NASCAR industry.

By the time practice started, Stenhouse had met Spurrier, Clowney and athletics director Ray Tanner. And yes, Thompson made his way out for a photo and a brief conversation.

“Any time you get to meet a coach and legend like Steve Spurrier is really cool,” Stenhouse said. “He’s a great coach. Any time we can link one of our races in South Carolina with the South Carolina football coach is perfect.”

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