Stenhouse wins wild wreck fest at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 01: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fifth Thrid Bank Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the accomplished restrictor plate master so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series this season Seven races after he won his first career Cup race at Talladega, Stenhouse charged to victory in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stenhouse took the lead on the final lap of an overtime finish in NASCAR’s midsummer classic passing David Ragan and holding off Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard for his second career win.

“Wow, these guys,” Stenhouse said standing on the start finish line. “I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one… We won the Firecracker 400! This is awesome! 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. I love it! Thank you to the fans for coming out here. Everyone at NASCAR. What a great weekend. America. 1776. We are the champs!”

In one of NASCAR’s longest races featuring a record number of cautions, 14, the story of the night was survival. Among those swept up in crashes and who finished in the garage; Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and to the disappointment of his legion of fans, pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was campaigning in his final Daytona races as a fulltime Cup driver had several issues. He lost a tire and got into the wall on lap 52. He would go two laps down as the crew repaired damage, but made those laps up. He was running seventh late on lap 105 when Harvick lost a tire crashing and sending Earnhardt into the wall and both to the garage.

“That first deal we brushed the wall a couple of laps earlier and I thought everything was okay,” Earnhardt said. “I came through the tri-oval and I had a right front going down and it was trying to spin out, so I was trying to lift, but there was really nothing I could do because there were so many guys behind me. We got into (turn) one and hit the wall. But the guys worked on the car; we got our laps back and was about to have some more fun – get back up in there and mix it up.  Then, that happened with the No. 4.

“It’s been a wild night.  I didn’t anticipate this much action and this much torn up sheet metal. There is still a lot of racing left.”

It was a somewhat anti-climactic finish to a week that saw him win the pole and receive the adulation of the track and the masses as he begins his farewell tour.

“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. “

“I wish we had had a good finish tonight if not a win. We were working up in there and having a good time and being aggressive and wearing out the sides of that race car.  It just wasn’t to be.”

Brad Keselowski led the most laps. 35, won the first Stage, but had to retire after receiving damage in the Harvick-Earnhardt a crash on lap 105.  He was able to continue but a suspension part broke on his Ford on lap 116 and headed to the garage.

The race was forced into overtime when Kyle Larson who recovered from damage sustained earlier in the race and was fighting for the lead was turned by Blaney on the front stretch.  Larson’s car was sent airborne collecting five other cars and forcing NASCAR to throw a red flag for 8 minutes 41 seconds.

“I was just up front there and doing what I could to stay up front,” Larson said.  “The 38  (McDowell) got to my inside and I saw that in my mirror and I kind of felt it a little bit because you can feel the air. I was just trying to leave him a little bit of room and I just moved up too high and ran across Ricky’s (Stenhouse, Jr.) nose and I hate that I caused that wreck and I feel pretty bad about.  It was going to be an extremely good points day and we hurt that a little bit.”

The restart came with three laps to go but a final crash between Denny Hamlin, and Erik Jones set up the overtime finish won by Stenhouse.

“I had a 4th of July party planned,” Stenhouse said. “But it just got a little bit bigger.”

Behind Menard, Michael McDowell scored a career high fourth place finish, with Ryan Newman fifth.

Ragan held on for sixth followed by Brenden Gaughan, AJ Allmendinger, Jones and Chris Buescher.

The Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 next Saturday night.

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