Ricky Stenhouse Jr. comes out on top at Daytona
By Rick Minter
There have been lots of NASCAR drivers who have gotten a single win at Talladega Superspeedway and never won again. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won’t be in that group as he backed up his May victory at Talladega with another in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Stenhouse, who drives the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, in a race that saw a record 14 caution periods that eliminated many of the early favorites, including pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Stenhouse started sixth and took the lead for good on the backstretch during an overtime run to the finish, drafting past race leader David Ragan and motoring away unchallenged to the checkered flag.
Clint Bowyer finished second for the second straight week ahead of Paul Menard and Michael McDowell, who scored the first top-five finish of his Cup career.
Stenhouse, 29, is emerging as one of the better racers at Daytona and Talladega, the two tracks where engines are restricted to slow speeds and where races are won by aggressive driving in large packs of cars. Of the 11 top-five finishes in his Cup career, five have come at these two tracks.
Runner-up Bowyer agreed in the post-race interviews at Daytona that Stenhouse has become a good restrictor-plate racer and has a fast car.
“Let’s face it, you get down to the end of that thing and look who the fastest car was,” Bowyer said, pointing out that Stenhouse qualified sixth at Daytona and was still running at the end after other faster cars had dropped out. “He’s the fastest car right then. He did a good job getting it to the front, and she set sail.
“He does a good job of blocking. He’s learned a lot. He’s become a good plate racer.”
Stenhouse was driving a new car, one that was built after he kept his Talladega car for posterity’s sake. The new one was just as fast, or faster, than the Talladega winner.
“All race I felt like I was really having to lift a lot [off the throttle] to keep from running over the cars in front of us,” Stenhouse said. “So I felt really strong about our car.”
For a time in the final laps, it looked as if David Ragan, driving the underdog No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, might pull off an upset. He led the field to the start of overtime, but when he moved high on the backstretch to block Ty Dillon, he left the bottom lane open for Stenhouse, who pounced in a hurry.
“David [Ragan] just didn’t get down quick enough,” Stenhouse said. “Looks are deceiving. When you’re looking in your mirror, you can really see the cars on the outside really good and it’s tough to see the cars on the inside.
“We just got a run at the right time, and he moved up at the perfect time for us to get to the inside and keep the lead from there.”
Stenhouse said he was surprised his car was as fast as it was given the fact that he’d made significant contact with the No. 42 of Kyle Larson as Larson sailed into the air during an earlier crash on the frontstretch.
“I think we got some rubber on the front bumper from his tires spinning,” Stenhouse said of the incident with Larson. “Everything just worked out just right for us right there.”