DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Junior went to victory lane at a restrictor-plate race again.
Just like last time, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrating after the checkered flag.
Stenhouse raced to his second victory of the season – second consecutive on a restrictor-plate track – Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. Both events were billed as showcases for retiring driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Stenhouse stole both shows.
Stenhouse picked up his first career NACAR Cup Series win in May at Talladega. Just like last time, girlfriend Danica Patrick was there to greet him in victory lane – she had wrecked out shortly before and was the first person at his car window when he pulled in to celebrate.
“It validates what we did in Talladega,” Stenhouse said.
He earned this one for Roush Fenway Racing in a two-lap overtime sprint when leader David Ragan tried to block the field and lost momentum. Stenhouse squirted by and held on for the victory. He did it in a new car, too, because he wasn’t giving back the Ford he drove at Talladega to his first career Cup victory.
“I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one,” he 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.”
Clint Bowyer was second for the second consecutive week.
“This bridesmaid deal sucks. I want to win. We’re in this business to win,” said Bowyer. “But second is better than third.”
Bowyer joined Stenhouse to give Ford Performance a 1-2 finish for the manufacturer and engine builder Doug Yates. Ford also won all three plate races this season.
Paul Menard was third, followed by Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman and Ragan.
Brendan Gaughan, AJ Allmendinger, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher rounded out a bizarre top 10. Many of the top contenders were knocked out in accidents, including Patrick, who kicked her car in frustration when she wrecked. She also was out of the race and in street clothes when Stenhouse won at Talladega.
The race had hit full intensity in the final 10 laps with series points leader Kyle Larson slicing his way back into contention. He was chasing Ty Dillon for the lead with seven laps remaining when he moved up a lane to block Stenhouse.
There wasn’t enough room for Larson’s car in front of Stenhouse, and the contact turned Larson toward the wall and lifted his car off the track. It triggered an eight-car accident that collected Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch and whittled down the field to just a handful of contenders.
NASCAR red-flagged the race to clean the damage, and went back to yellow after a stoppage of nearly nine minutes.
Dillon was out front as the leader, followed by Ragan, Allmendinger and Stenhouse, who despite driving under Larson’s airborne car, seemed to come out unscathed and restarted fourth.
Ragan got a good push from Allmendinger on the restart, but a spin by Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones brought out the caution to send the race into overtime. That’s when Stenhouse got his chance.
“I zigged when I should have zagged,” Ragan said. “It’s tough to block two or three lanes coming to the white flag. I missed it on that run. If I couldn’t win I’m glad another Ford is in victory lane. Ricky’s a good guy and I’m proud for that team.”
The race was allegedly the final one at Daytona for Earnhardt . But he opens the door wider and wider every time he speaks about racing in the future, and winning the pole for Saturday night made him eligible for an exhibition race next February.
It set the stage for what felt like an Earnhardt kind of night, but he was forced into the wall riding in traffic early in the second stage and it seemed to end the feel-good story.
But Earnhardt worked his way back inside the top 10 and was sixth and pushing hard, demanding on his radio to know who was in front of Kevin Harvick, when he hooked Harvick to trigger a multi-car crash. Harvick said he got a flat tire right before the contact.
Earnhardt’s night was over, and he headed to the garage and a 32nd-place finish.
“It’s been a wild night,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t anticipate this much action and this much torn up sheet metal.”
SHORT NIGHT: Joey Logano was knocked out in a multi-car accident after 72 laps. But, Logano was one of seven drivers to run in the rain postponed Xfinity Series race earlier in the day. Even with the wreck, Logano raced 430 miles in the two races.
UP NEXT: A Saturday night race at Kentucky Speedway, where Brad Keselowski won last year. He has won three of the last five races at Kentucky.
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