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NASCAR Cup: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scores first-career win at Talladega

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017, after winning the Geico 500 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017, after winning the Geico 500 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

It took Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 158 races to do it, but he finally claimed series win number one Sunday in the Geico 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The win also snapped a 101-race win drought for Roush Fenway Racing.
“This is for all the guys at the shop,” Stenhouse said. “We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race, we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good race track for us. It’s been a good one in the past, and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson. He was with us on that last lap.”
After starting on the pole for the second time in his career and the first time since his rookie season of 2013, Stenhouse led early and was back up front to pass Kyle Busch on the last lap of overtime for the win.
“I’m gonna have to watch it (the pass for the lead) again,” Stenhouse said. “There was so much going on, and I knew I had to keep the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) back. The 1 (Jamie McMurray) got a huge run. I think the 18 (Busch) thought I was gonna go to the top, and we ended up getting to the bottom. We were side drafting each other like crazy, so that was one heck of a race, and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Jamie McMurray also got by Busch on the final lap to take runner-up honors, relegating Busch to third at the finish.
“When they have too big of a run, you can’t do anything about it,” Busch said. “Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us, there, and then, it was just about retaliation to get back on him, and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together.”
Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five.
After five cautions — two to mark the end of the first two 55-lap stages of the race and three for single-car incidents — a 16-car wreck brought the sixth yellow flag when A.J. Allmendinger made contact with Chase Elliott, sending Elliott airborne and Allmendinger onto his roof. All drivers walked away from the carnage, and the race was red-flagged 23 minutes for track clean-up.
“I’m fine,” Allmendinger said. “I’m happy I didn’t get hit upside down. I’m all good. Our race team does a great job with safety. It’s just Talladega. It’s all it is. The plan worked out. We waited in the back and got up front, and I had (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. pushing me. I had the best guy pushing me. I’m not sure. Chase was kind of — the No. 18 and the No. 24 (Elliott) ,they were kind of moving aorund, and at the time, I think [Kevin] Harvick got behind me, and we were shoving and Chase opened the door and then kind of closed it, and I tried to check up just a little bit and tapped him, and when I checked up, it was a big wreck after that.”
Earnhardt got through the wreck unscathed, but had to pit with a loose wheel after the restart.
The yellow flag waved two additional times in the closing laps, with the eighth and final caution sending the race into overtime.
Brad Keselowski won the first of two 55-lap stages and Denny Hamlin took the second stage win.
After Stenhouse led the opening laps of the race, Keselowski got to the front by lap 15. Keselowski, then, dropped back to as low as 18th in the running order as he tried to get debris clean from his grille, but  after Clint Bowyer and Busch led laps, Keselowski returned to the lead by lap 34.
Busch’s three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez — attempted to gain track position through the pit strategy of heading for pit road just before the pits closed in the final laps of the first stage. The move worked for Hamlin, but not for Kenseth and Suarez. Kenseth and Suarez failed to cross the pit commitment line before then-leader Keselowski crossed the start/finish line and pit road closed. Matters were made worse for Kenseth when a flat tire put him a lap down.
The strategy worked for Hamlin, though, and when everyone else pitted at the end of the first stage, Hamlin stayed out and inherited the lead. He went on to lead most of the second stage, with the exception of a handful of laps following a caution on lap 82. Several drivers took fuel only during the caution and got off pit road ahead of Hamlin. By lap 91, Hamlin was back up front.
By the closing laps of stage two, Kenseth was back on the lead lap, and again, he tried the strategy of pitting just before pit road closed at the end of the stage. The second time around, the strategy worked, and Kenseth restarted up front for the final stretch of the race.
Hamlin restarted next to Kenseth on the front row, and after a cycle of green-flag pit stops with about 40 laps remaining, they were joined at the front by Busch and their “corporate” teammates, Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones.
Kenseth, Truex and Jones, though, were caught up in the multi-car wreck several laps later.
“We got shuffled to the outside one time, there, and got in a bad spot, and then, they started wrecking,” Truex said. “It’s a shame; it’s the way it goes here. Unfortunately for us, it’s been a tough one to finish, but we did get stage points today, so that’s a bonus and at least it’s better than running all day and crashing out and not getting anything. All in all, it’s one of those deals, and it’s Talladega. Looking forward to Kansas next week, for sure.”
Keselowski’s car sustained some damage in the crash, but he was able to continue on to a 10th-place finish (seventh).
Other top-10 finishers included Kurt Busch in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in eighth, Paul Menard in ninth and David Ragan in 10th.
Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer)

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Posted by on May 8, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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