Stenhouse Jr. drives to Talladega victory
TALLADEGA, Ala. - Ricky Stenhouse Jr. used a strong Ford engine to blow past Kyle Busch in overtime at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday for his first NASCAR Cup victory.
It was the first victory for Roush Fenway Racing since Carl Edwards at Sonoma in 2014. Stenhouse, who has led a resurgent Roush team, won in his 158th Cup start. The victory makes him eligible for the All-Star race later this month, and likely a slot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
He was greeted in victory lane first by car owner Jack Roush, then girlfriend Danica Patrick, who was in street clothes because she wrecked out of the race earlier.
“We’ve been terrible for a long time, but we’ve been getting better and better every race,” said Stenhouse, who took time to note he “parked it” in victory lane for his late friend, Bryan Clauson.
“It’s good to have Jack Roush back in victory lane. It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled into a victory lane. I had to ask Brad Keselowski how to start a race from the pole because it’s been so long.”
Patrick had been packing in the couples’ motorhome, watching the race on television. She soon found herself sitting on the floor, cheering wildly over the final laps. When she reached his car, she leaned in for an admitted “big ‘ol kiss.”
“While I never want to crash out of a race ever, at least I was there for the moment when he pulled in and that’s the bright side. And I got to watch him win,” she said. “I’m just so, so proud of him. He works his butt off. He works harder than any driver I know. He works tirelessly.”
Stenhouse started from the pole and praised the power from his Doug Yates-built engine for the speed. Then he used that speed to snatch the race away with a last-lap pass of Busch.
The first two stages of the race were calm, and it was the final stretch to the checkered flag that got heated.
The race was stopped for nearly 27 minutes because of an accident that saw AJ Allmendinger’s car flipped on its roof with 19 laps remaining.
The damage was just as bad for Chase Elliott, who got turned by Allmendinger into the wall. Elliott was then hit by Joey Logano, and that contact caused Elliott’s car to lift onto Logano’s hood.
Much of the delay in racing was so workers could turn Allmendinger’s car back on to its wheels so Allmendinger could exit.
NASCAR listed 18 cars as sustaining damage in the accident.
When the red flag was lifted, many of those cars darted to pit road for frantic repairs under NASCAR’s new five-minute rule. If a team can’t fix its damage on pit road in five minutes, the car is ruled out of the race.
The race restarted with 15 laps remaining and Busch as the leader. Any shot Dale Earnhardt Jr. had at winning evaporated moments later when he was forced to pit with a loose wheel.
There was a caution called with 10 laps remaining because Landon Cassill couldn’t get his disabled car off the track, and that allowed Earnhardt to get back on the lead lap. He was 23rd with seven laps to go when the race resumed.
But no one had enough to catch leader Busch as the field was setting itself up for a frantic dash to the finish. Then Ryan Newman spun with three laps remaining to send the race into overtime.
Busch was listed as the leader, followed by Stenhouse, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray. Stenhouse got a push from McMurray around Busch and made it stick for the win.
“I don’t really know where it all happened or transpired or how many to go it was, but (Stenhouse) got a run from behind off of Turn 2, and I don’t know what his help was or anything like that, but he actually ran into the back of me, and then you’d think that that momentum would propel me forward some, and he just turned left and he went right by me,” Busch said. “ That was pretty impressive, I guess, or I was just that slow and in his way.”
McMurray finished second in a Chevrolet and was followed by Busch in a Toyota, then Aric Almirola, another Ford driver and winner of the Xfinity Series race Saturday.
STAGE 1 WINNER:
Keselowski won the first stage in what seemed to be a Ford rout. He beat fellow Ford driver Stenhouse to win the segment.
Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Patrick, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.
Stenhouse started from the pole and led 13 laps — the first time he’d led laps all season.
STAGE 2 WINNER:
Denny Hamlin gave Toyota its first taste of the front of the field as he won the second stage. It was Hamlin’s first stage win of the season.
He was followed by Kevin Harvick, Blaney, Truex, Johnson, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Kahne, Jones and McMurray.
A Saturday night stop at Kansas Speedway. Kyle Busch earned the victory last year — his third of the season — during a streak in which Joe Gibbs Racing won eight of the first 13 races of the season. Through 10 races this year, only Truex of sister team Furniture Row Racing has a victory in the Gibbs’ column. Truex won at Las Vegas in March.