E.A. Sports Today

Stenhouse snatches another one

Roush driver scores his first Cup victory with a daring move in NASCAR overtime, gives owner first win in 35 months

Jamie McMurray (1) finished second after making a bold charge through the middle of the pack. On the cover Ricky Stenhouse Jr. proclaims victory in Victory Lane. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Keep all your valuables close whenever you find yourself in a room with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Or at least make sure you have them when you leave.

Stenhouse snatched the Geico 500 pole from Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the last possible moment Saturday and he snatched victory from at least a half-dozen challenges on the last lap of NASCAR overtime Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

The 29-year-old from Olive Branch, Miss., up to now best known as Danica Patrick’s boyfriend, made a daring move on the back stretch and then protected it from Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola coming home for his historic victory.

It was Stenhouse’s first win in 158 career Cup starts and made him the 11th Cup driver to win his first race here. It was the 136th win for car owner Jack Roush, but his first since June 2014 (Carl Edwards, Sonoma), ending speculation that the legendary owner had been lapped by the sport.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Stenhouse said. “This is for all the guys at the stop. We’ve been terrible for a long time, (but) this year we’ve been getting better and better.

“It’s been a long time since I pulled into Victory Lane. I had to ask Brad Keselowski how to start a race on the pole. It’s just nice to see Jack smiling here in Victory Lane. I know he’s been wanting this for a long time. To get that win for Jack and everyone on our team is really special.”

The race went into overtime due to a caution brought out by an incident involving Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher in the backstretch on the last scheduled lap.

When the white flag came out in overtime Stenhouse was side-by-side with Busch, then blocked a run from behind by Jimmie Johnson. Suddenly McMurray came charging through the middle between Johnson and Kasey Kahne like a fullback through a massive hole in the offensive line.

Busch tried to get one last run off a side draft of McMurray, but Stenhouse blocked them again in front of the grandstands and beat them all to the checkered flag.

Busch was brilliant on all of the late restarts, jumping out quickly to control the field. He just couldn’t hold onto it on the last one.

“I don’t know (why they were so strong); maybe it was everybody sleeping,” he said. “But it certainly was working, and that was sort of my strategy to get it where I was single file and could choose the late and see which one had the momentum behind him.

“If I were stuck side by side with the bottom line, I never had that opportunity in order to protect both lanes. I seemed to be able to do a good job at that, I just don’t know how it all fell apart there in the last lap or two for us that we couldn’t get to where we needed to be. We were in the dog seat, the position to win and just didn’t do it.”

The first two stages of the race were relatively clean and it remained that way into the third. But everyone knew The Big One was coming and it finally showed.

With 19 laps to go, nearly half the field – 18 cars — got caught up in a wreck on the back stretch that started when A.J. Almendinger got into Chase Elliott and both eventually went airborne.

Almendinger was getting a good run up the outside line when he came up on Elliott with nowhere to go. The tap loosened Elliott and sent him into the wall, where he ran up onto Joey Logano’s hood.

Elliott rode along the wall pinned to Logano while Almendinger shot out of the mess and began tumbling down the track. Almendinger wound up stopped on his roof, and instructed to stay in the car as crews prepared to upright it.

The red flag was out for 26 minutes, 51 seconds as workers cleaned up the mess.

Elliott asked his crew over the radio if the melee were his fault and was told it wasn’t. Almendinger apologized to him as they came out of the infield care center.

“I don’t know it was his fault, per se,” Elliott said. “He had a big run, got to my bumper and was kind of in a bad spot.”

“I barely tapped him and tried to get off him and by then it was too late,” Almendinger said

In all 16 cars received some kind of damage in the incident and it elevated Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the front of the pack for the restart.

A problem with the left rear wheel he had felt all race finally came to a head for Earnhardt on the restart and lost ground quickly. He pitted to correct the problem, but never could get back among the leaders and finished 22nd in his next to last race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt started the day on the outside pole; astoundingly his first front-row start at Talladega. If it weren’t for Stenhouse’s big run at the end of Saturday’s qualifying, he would have had the pole. Stenhouse said after qualifying he hoped the fans wouldn’t hold it against him and would “let” him win the race Sunday.

“I was messing with Junior after qualifying that I was a little nervous going out on the boulevard last night after taking the pole away,” Stenhouse said. “But I think I gained a lot of fans taking a win away from the 18 (Busch); I’m just guessing. All in all it was a huge day for us, a huge weekend.”

Kyle Busch (18) got great restarts late in the race and had the lead, but finished third after Ricky Stenhouse bumped and passed him on the last lap. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

(Start position in parentheses)
1. (1) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 191 laps
2. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 191
3. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 191
4. (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191
5. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 191
6. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, 191
7. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 191
8. (30) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 191
9. (9) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 191
10. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 191
11. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191
12. (21) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 191
13. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 191
14. (17) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 191
15. (34) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 191
16. (38) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 191
17. (35) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 191
18. (26) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 191
19. (7) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 191
20. (37) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 191
21. (39) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 191
22. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 191
23. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 191
24. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 190
25. (20) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, accident, 185
26. (32) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 183
27. (36) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 183
28. (40) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, engine, 174
29. (25) Landon Cassill, Ford, transmission, 173
30. (8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, accident, 168
31. (27) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, accident, 168
32. (12) Joey Logano, Ford, accident, 168
33. (14) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 168
34. (24) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, accident, 168
35. (13) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 168
36. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 168
37. (5) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 168
38. (31) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 168
39. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, accident, 160
40. (33) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, accident, 72

Average Speed of Race Winner: 145.659 mph.
Time of Race: 3 hours, 29 minutes, 16 seconds.
Margin of Victory: 0.095 seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 33 laps.
Lead Changes: 26 among 14 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Stenhouse 1-13; Keselowski 14-17; Newman 18; Bowyer 19-23; Harvick 24; Bowyer 25-27; Ky.Busch 28-33; Keselowski 34-57; Dillon 58-60; Hamlin 61-80; Ky.Busch 81-83; Bayne 84-88; Newman 89; Bowyer 90-91; Hamlin 92-112; Menard 113; Kenseth 114-117; Hamlin 118; Keselowski 119-121; Hamlin 122; Harvick 123-127; Johnson 128-130; Harvick 131-139; Logano 140-149; Sadler 150-151; Ky.Busch 152-190; Stenhouse 191

Top 10 in Points: 1. Larson, 428; 2. Truex, 374; 3. Keselowski, 367; 4. Elliott, 353; 5. Logano, 318; 6. McMurray, 318; 7. Harvick, 309; 8. Johnson, 305; 9. Bowyer, 289; 10. Ky.Busch, 277.

Kyle Larson holds a 54-point lead in points race after finishing 12th Sunday. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To enjoy a gallery of B.J. Franklin photos from today’s race, go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

You must be logged in to post a comment Login