TAMPA — Ricky Stenhouse knows the odds are stacked against him in the Daytona 500.
After all, he has just one Sprint Cup race under his belt and has only a one-race deal to drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing.
But the second-tier Nationwide series defending champion knows unlikelier things have happened or, at least, as unlikely.
It happened last year to Stenhouse's friend Trevor Bayne.
Bayne, Stenhouse's Roush-Fenway teammate in Nationwide, parlayed a partial Sprint Cup deal with the Wood Brothers team into perhaps the biggest upset in Daytona history last year, becoming the youngest 500 winner ever, just a day after his 20th birthday.
"That's the one that you want to run," Stenhouse said last week about Daytona. "That's the one that everybody would pick."
Stenhouse's lone Sprint Cup race was last year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. The 24-year-old finished a solid 11th and on the lead lap for the same No. 21 team that Bayne drove for at Daytona.
Still, on Feb. 26, when Stenhouse lines up for this year's Daytona 500 (he's guaranteed a spot because of owner's points that carry over for the No. 6 car), he knows repeating Bayne's feat will not be easy.
"Early in the (600-mile) race, I was racing just as hard for 28th as I did for fifth in the Nationwide race," Stenhouse said. "I don't expect it to be any different at Daytona. They got a lot of experience that I don't have."
The Mississippi native has picked up some laps at Daytona during testing, which has been a challenge as NASCAR continues to tinker with its rules.
"We had the test at Daytona with them changing rules," Stenhouse said. "With the drafting we did you could tell (drivers) were anxious to get back in it. It was exciting out there, and it was just a test."
Part of that excitement comes as NASCAR introduces steps to try to reduce the amount of two-car tandem racing at restrictor-plate tracks. That style has proved unpopular with fans, many of whom indicate they prefer the massive packs from the recent past.
"Hopefully the fans will be able to get both (packs and tandems)," Stenhouse said. "I think still the fastest way around is pushing each other, but if your motor can't take the heat — they've regulated it where the temperatures run up a lot faster, they start blowing out water a lot faster. Toward the end of the race maybe the last couple of laps you might see some steam coming out of the hood.
"I think the fans are going to have back what they wanted as far as the pack drafting."
Stenhouse said he likes the racing at a resurfaced Daytona International Speedway either way but, with track president Joie Chitwood present, joked that, "I'm waiting on Joie to go out and dig some holes and make it rough again."
Chitwood, who dealt with the pothole-delayed 2010 race, responded, "My last act as president of Daytona: President loses mind, digs pothole."
Clearly that's not going to happen. But Stenhouse, whose friendly off-track competitions with Bayne are chronicled on a website called RickyvsTrevor.com, wants a shot at 500 glory, even knowing how hard it will be in just his second Sprint Cup start.
After all, last year there was a driver in the race who made just his second start.
Guess which one.