The other Jr., Ricky Stenhouse, wins Coke Zero 400

DAYTONA BEACH | Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed the party planned Saturday for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Instead of sending the sport’s most popular driver closer to retirement with a victory at a track that epitomizes the Earnhardt family legacy, Stenhouse put sentimentality in his rearview mirror to become racing’s newest restrictor-plate racing master.

Stenhouse won at the Talladega Superspeedway in April – the only other track that requires a special plate to reduce speeds for safety reasons.

Stenhouse stormed past David Ragan on the white flag of overtime. From there, he kept his No. 17 Ford out front all the way to the checkered flag.

“This validates what we did at Talladega,” Stenhouse said. “I had a Fourth of July party planned. It just got a little bigger.”

Clint Bowyer rallied to finish second, followed by Paul Menard, Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, Ragan, Brendan Gaughan, A.J. Alleminder and Chris Buescher.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” Ragan said. “I missed my mark a little bit on that restart. I just couldn’t block the run the 17 [Stenhouse] and 95 [McDowell] had.”

Earnhardt started on the pole, but his time out front only lasted until the field got to the first turn on the first lap when Chase Elliott got the better jump.

Drivers seemed content to move around to find a comfortable spot in traffic without pushing too hard. Brad Keselowski won the first segment, leading 32 of the first 40 laps.

The hopes of Earnhardt closing out his Daytona career with a victory ended on the 52nd lap when he blew his right-front tire in the second turn after bouncing off Paul Menard. He limped onto pit road for repairs. He was two laps behind – and damaged – when he returned.

Four laps later his nephew, Jeffery Earnhardt, blew an engine.

Another race favorite, Kyle Larson, got a lap down for a tire change after he ran into Daniel Suarez coming to the tri-oval.

More favorites, including three of the four drivers who were atop the standings before the race, were knocked out in a six-car crash on the 71st lap. It started when Kyle Busch cut a tire in the second turn after hitting Michael McDowell. He turned into the wall, and Larson, McDowell, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Danica Patrick and Jamie McMurray were involved in the chain reaction.

Elliott and Trevor Bayne were eliminated from contention when they were the victim when McDowell and Kasey Kahne ran into each other with 63 laps remaining.

And all the crashes gave Earnhardt’s team a chance to work on his damaged car. He eventually earned back both laps with “lucky dog” free passes to the top-running car not on the lead lap.

With 60 laps to go, Earnhardt was back on the leaderboard in ninth. He got as high as seventh place with 55 laps remaining, when he was swept into a multi-car accident on the backstretch.

The crash started when Kevin Harvick’s car snapped out of control directly in front of Earnhardt. Kahne, Suarez, Keselowski, Matt DiBenedetto, also were involved.

Earnhardt’s night was done.

Much of the final 20 laps were run with Kahne up front, followed by Matt Kenseth, Suarez, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Paul Menard running nose-to-tail. Then a group including Stenhouse, Ty Dillon, Larson and David Ragan found speed on the bottom groove in the final 10 laps.

Stenhouse led lap 149. Dillon took the lead on laps 153 and was out front when one of the biggest crashes of the night – and the race-record 13th caution – started when Stenhouse turned Larson around coming to the line with eight laps to go.

Nine cars were involved, and it continued to whittle down the list of contenders.

Larson’s car got airborne and was hit by Blaney. Bubba Wallace, Kenseth, . The melee led to am 8-minute, 41-second red-flag with Dillon, Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger up front.

The race resumed with three laps remaining.

Ragan got the jump, but only made it to the backstretch before Jones, Jamie McMurray, Elliott and Hamlin wrecked to send the race into overtime.

Ragan led Dillon, Stenhouse and Allmendinger to start the two-lap shootout. Stenhouse got a big run on the backstretch, mirroring his late-race charge nearly three months ago at Talladega.

 

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