Stenhouse hangs on, Earnhardt crashes out
daytona beach, fla. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. raced to his second victory of the season — and second on a restrictor-plate track — Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Stenhouse picked up his first career NASCAR Cup Series win in May at Talladega. Just like last time, girlfriend Danica Patrick was there to greet him in Victory Lane — she had wrecked out shortly before and was the first person at his car window when he pulled in to celebrate.
“It validates what we did in Talladega,” Stenhouse said.
He earned this one for Roush Fenway Racing in a two-lap overtime sprint when leader David Ragan tried to block the field and lost momentum. Stenhouse squirted by and held on for the victory. He did it in a new car, too, because he wasn’t giving back the Ford he drove at Talladega to his first career Cup victory.
“I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one,” he said. “I have been coming here since 2008. I actually came in 2006 one time with Bobby Hamilton Jr., and it is cool to put it in Victory Lane and get our second win this year.”
The race was billed as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup Series finale at Daytona, and he was the pole-sitter and a clear favorite. He had one of the fastest cars in the field and spent much of the first two stages up front.
But NASCAR’s most popular driver scraped the wall early in the 400-mile race and then got knocked out with 54 laps remaining when Kevin Harvick spun and crashed in front of him. It was a disappointing and frustrating finish after a full week of hype.
“I just didn’t expect all that attention all week,” he said. “My phone buzzing all day long with social media going crazy, everybody talking about this being my last Daytona race. I hope every weekend isn’t like this as far as that goes. The attention and the reaction from the fans makes me feel great. Hopefully, we are able to turn that around and back on them for the rest of the season and thank them for all they had done.”
Clint Bowyer was second for the second consecutive week.
“This bridesmaid thing sucks,” Bowyer said. “But second is better than third.”
Paul Menard was third, followed by Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman and Ragan.
Brendan Gaughan, A.J. Allmendinger, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher rounded out a bizarre top 10. Many of the top contenders were knocked out in crashes, including Patrick, who was seen kicking her car in frustration when she wrecked. She also was out of the race and in street clothes when Stenhouse won at Talladega.
The race had hit full intensity in the final 10 laps with series points leader Kyle Larson slicing his way back into contention. He was chasing Ty Dillon for the lead with seven laps remaining when he moved up a lane to block Stenhouse.
There wasn’t enough room for Larson’s car in front of Stenhouse, and the contact turned Larson toward the wall and lifted his car off the track. It triggered an eightcar crash that collected Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch and whittled down the field to just a handful of contenders.
NASCAR red-flagged the race to clean the damage and went back to yellow after a stoppage of nearly nine minutes.
Dillon was out front as the leader, followed by Ragan, Allmendinger and Stenhouse, who despite driving under Larson’s airborne car, seemed to come out unscathed and restarted fourth.
Ragan got a good push from Allmendinger on the restart, but a spin by Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones brought out the caution to send the race into overtime. That’s when Stenhouse got his chance.
XFINITY SERIES: William Byron got his second win of the season, and this time he got to do it in front of his bosses.
Byron won his second straight race by leading a one-two finish at Daytona for JR Motorsports. He raced to his first career Xfinity victory last weekend at Iowa, but team owners Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick weren’t at the track to see him.
This time, Hendrick was the first person to the window of his car in Victory Lane. The 19-yearold became the youngest series winner at Daytona.