Stenhouse Jr. survives carnage, wins at Daytona

Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

A Junior and Danica Patrick in victory lane at Daytona?! Say it ain’t so!

No—not really. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wound up the victor of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday evening for the second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of his career, second of this season and second consecutive at a restrictor plate track.


NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN?

Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

The Olive Branch, Miss. native had to survive a race of attrition that saw over 10 cars fail to finish due to accidents as well as an overtime finish and a sprint to the checkered flag. But Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did exactly that, winning for the first time at Daytona in his career.

“I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one,” Stenhouse Jr. said on the frontstretch to NBC after climbing out of his No. 17 Ford. “(Roush Fenway Racing) built a Fifth Third Ford that was really fast. This is awesome. I’ve been coming here since 2008. I actually came in 2006 one time with Bobby Hamilton Jr., and it’s cool to put it in victory lane and get our second win this year […] this validates what we did at Talladega.”


1776 CHAMPS

NBC has decided to interview the race winner on the track and in victory lane this season. So they did that to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And for whatever reason, the driver of the No. 17 (and newly discovered patriot) decided to pay homage to the year that the United States declared its independence.

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“I love it! Thank you to the fans for coming out here,” he said. “Everyone at NASCAR. What a great weekend. America! 1776! We are the champs!”

I was watching this race with some friends at the beach. They’re not NASCAR fans, and they only know about it because of me. When they heard Stenhouse Jr. say “America! 1776! We are the champs,” they just laughed out loud and were somewhat confused. And so was I. But I honestly loved it, so who cares? A little unintentional humor never hurt anybody.


Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

THE FIELD

Following Stenhouse Jr. across the finish line were Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman. David Ragan, Brendan Gaughan, AJ Allmendinger, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10 finishers when the checkered flag flew from Daytona.

Core LaJoie, Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto, Jamie McMurray and Darrell Wallace Jr. rounded out the top 15. Some other notable finishers included Daniel Suarez in 17th, Kasey Kahne in 18th, Kyle Busch in 20th and Elliott Sadler in 21st.


BIG NAMES CRASH OUT

There were two large wrecks that occurred during the race. The first of which came on lap 72 as stage two began to wind down. Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Michael McDowell were involved in that accident.

Photo: Getty Images

On lap 106, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford blew a tire exiting turn two and collected a plethora of cars in the process. Brad Keselowski, who won stage one, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez were involved. There was also a scary crash involving Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Larson’s No. 42 went airborne briefly heading through the tri-oval before coming down back onto the race track.

Most of these drivers finished outside the top 25 when the checkered flag flew from the 2.5-mile oval. Restrictor plate tracks have always had the knack for producing surprising winners and shaking up the running order, so this carnage and the 14 cautions for 51 laps were a bit much, but shouldn’t come as a complete shock to fans.


UNDERDOGS SHINE

With the departure of the “normal” names inside the top 15, it makes for some interesting names and underdog teams being thrusted into the spotlight—sometimes their only time ever.

Paul Menard earned his first top five in forever, Michael McDowell earned his career-best finish, David Ragan got the best finish of his season, Brendan Gaughan raced his way to Beard Motorsports’ best finish ever and Corey LaJoie also scored a career-best result. How bow dah?


Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

DISAPPOINTING EVENING FOR EARNHARDT JR.

A 32nd place finish definitely wasn’t what the active-winningest driver at Daytona in the MENCS wanted. Especially in his last scheduled race at the track in his Cup career. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. sure did put on a show for the fans that were watching at home and in the stands.

He hit the wall after suffering a flat tire 40 laps into the 160-lap, 400-mile event and fell two laps down after repairing damage. He and his No. 88 team worked hard and ended up getting both laps back by lap 90. But lap 106 was when it all went downhill. He was directly behind Harvick when his tire blew, and Earnhardt Jr.’s evening was over right as it began again.

“Kinda got shuffled back early, not in the right line for a while but got back up there and finished second in the first stage trying to win that thing,” Earnhardt Jr. told NBC following his early exit. “We had a little flat tire, got four-wide a couple times. Man, it was a lot of fun. Everyone was real aggressive banging doors and sliding against the fence. It was pretty wild; like a short track race out there tonight […] everything we do is for the fans.”


WHAT’S NEXT

NASCAR heads from the high banks of Daytona to the bumpy surface of Kentucky Speedway for the only MENCS event at the Sparta, Ky. 1.5-mile track in the 2017 season. The weekend will be a tripleheader of night races with action on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The Quaker State 400 will go green just past 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday evening with TV coverage on NBCSN.