Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. survived a wild, wreck-filled race to collect his second-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory with a win in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Stenhouse powered past race leader David Ragan with one lap to go in a final three-lap shootout for the win, holding off Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard at the stripe for his second victory of the season.
Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman made up the rest of the top five finishers.
Stenhouse’s win comes just two months after he scored his first-career victory at Talladega back in May, giving him two-straight restrictor-plate victories and moving him into tie with Larson, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. for second in the playoff standings.
“We won the Firecracker 400! This is awesome!” Stenhouse 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. I love it! Thank you to the fans for coming out here. Everyone at NASCAR. What a great weekend.
“This validates what we did at Talladega. I kept my Talladega car and told (my team) to build a new one. They built a Fifth Third Ford that was really fast.”
Saturday night’s race was a battle of survival with a record 14 caution flags over the 163-lap distance, claiming many of the top contenders including Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The biggest crash of the night came with just six laps to go after Larson got turned coming through the tri-oval and nearly flipped over, touching off a seven-car crash that brought out the red flag.
The crash set the stage for what was shaping up to be a five-lap dash to the checkered flag with Ty Dillon leading over Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger and Stenhouse.
On the restart, Allmendinger pushed Ragan just far enough ahead of Dillon for Ragan to slide up and take the top spot coming out of turn two, but almost as soon as the field made it to the backstretch, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin spun to bring out the 14th and final caution – and bunched up the field for a green-white-checkered overtime finish.
Ragan lined up in the inside ahead of Stenhouse and McDowell for the restart while Dillon led the outside line with Allmendinger and Menard in tow. Ragan and Dillon restarted side-by-side before Ragan pulled out by a car length on the backstraight.
With Dillon mounting a charge on the high side, Ragan moved up to block coming into turn three, opening the door for on the inside for Stenhouse who race to the front, pulling McDowell with him.
As the field took the white flag, it was Stenhouse out front ahead of McDowell and Dillon, but Dillon got shuffled out of line and Menard and Bowyer ducked under McDowell as they made the backstretch.
From there, Stenhouse hugged the bottom line and held off Menard through the final turn before Menard himself got edged by Bowyer for second at the finish line.
It was the second runner-up finish in a row for Bowyer, who came home second behind teammate Kevin Harvick last weekend at Sonoma.
“Second sucks, but it’s better than third,” Bowyer said. “We finished second two weeks in a row, so that’s a huge confidence booster for our team. You hope you keep riding this wave and turn one of those seconds into a win.”
Earnhardt, Jr., who was making what could be his final start at Daytona, started on the pole but cut a tire down on lap 52 and wound up a lap down.
Earnhardt, Jr. managed to battle back and re-claim his lap, but got caught up in a multi-car crash on lap 107 along with Harvick and Daniel Suarez, which brought his night to an end.
“I just didn’t expect all that attention all week,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “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.”
In the points standings, Larson holds the top spot by 18 points over Truex, Jr., followed by Kyle Busch, Harvick and Keselowski.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, FL
Coke Zero 400 – July 1, 2017
1. (6) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 163.
2. (11) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 163.
3. (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 163.
4. (23) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 163.
5. (22) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 163.
6. (30) David Ragan, Ford, 163.
7. (32) * Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 163.
8. (27) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 163.
9. (17) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 163.
10. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 163.
11. (36) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 163.
12. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 163.
13. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 163.
14. (8) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 163.
15. (31) Darrell Wallace, Jr.(i), Ford, 163.
16. (34) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 163.
17. (20) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 163.
18. (4) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 163.
19. (26) Landon Cassill, Ford, 163.
20. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 163.
21. (33) * Elliott Sadler(i), Chevrolet, 163.
22. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 162.
23. (14) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 160.
24. (18) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 157.
25. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, Accident, 154.
26. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 154.
27. (13) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Accident, 154.
28. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 153.
29. (21) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 153.
30. (37) * Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 147.
31. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 113.
32. (1) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 106.
33. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 105.
34. (25) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, Accident, 73.
35. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, Accident, 71.
36. (19) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 70.
37. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Engine, 57.
38. (40) D.J. Kennington, Toyota, Engine, 14.
39. (35) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Engine, 9.
40. (38) * Ryan Sieg(i), Toyota, Engine, 7.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 123.986 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 17 Mins, 12 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.213 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 14 for 51 laps.
Lead Changes: 33 among 16 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Earnhardt Jr. 0; C. Elliott 1-4; B. Keselowski 5-28; K. Harvick 29-30; B. Keselowski 31-33; K. Harvick 34; B. Keselowski 35; D. Earnhardt Jr. 36; B. Keselowski 37-43; E. Jones # 44-47; D. Hamlin 48; E. Jones # 49-53; D. Hamlin 54-67; M. Kenseth 68-69; T. Bayne 70-71; M. Kenseth 72-78; D. Hamlin 79; M. Kenseth 80-81; K. Harvick 82-85; R. Stenhouse Jr. 86-91; D. Suarez # 92-101; M. Kenseth 102; J. Johnson 103-106; C. Bowyer 107-110; R. Stenhouse Jr. 111-117; M. Kenseth 118-126; R. Blaney 127-135; K. Kahne 136-137; D. Suarez # 138; K. Kahne 139-148; R. Stenhouse Jr. 149-150; T. Dillon # 151-157; D. Ragan 158-161; R. Stenhouse Jr. 162-163.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 4 times for 35 laps; M. Kenseth 5 times for 21 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 4 times for 17 laps; D. Hamlin 3 times for 16 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 12 laps; D. Suarez # 2 times for 11 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 9 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 9 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 7 laps; T. Dillon # 1 time for 7 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 4 laps; C. Elliott 1 time for 4 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 4 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 4 laps; T. Bayne 1 time for 2 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,88,21,14,22,95,1,41,20,38
Stage #2 Top Ten: 20,11,48,41,38,4,5,13,43,21
Top 10 in Points: 1. Kyle Larson – 667 (2 Wins); 2. Martin Truex, Jr. – 649 (2 Wins); 3. Kyle Busch – 559; 4. Kevin Harvick – 557 (1 Win); 5. Brad Keselowski – 535 (2 Wins); 6. Chase Elliott – 524; 7. Jimmie Johnson – 516 (3 Wins); 8. Jamie McMurray – 504; 9. Denny Hamlin – 498; 10. Clint Bowyer – 469.