Stenhouse Jr. claims second career victory in Coke Zero 400
By Daniel Courson
July 2, 2017
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Ricky Stenhouse Jr. survived the twelve cautions for incidents on track in Saturday night’s 59th Annual Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola.
A record 14 cautions slowed the field Saturday night, the most ever in the Coke Zero 400. The record broken was 12 set back in 1989, exactly 28 years ago.
Stenhouse Jr. led for a total of 17 laps en route to his second career victory in NASCAR’s premiere series and second this season. Stenhouse claimed victory 7 weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway.
“I feel like for me, we’ve had good finishes at speedways,” Stenhouse said. “I feel like we lucked into a few of them, but now that we’re paying a lot of attention to every single part of our company, making sure that the speedway cars are good.
“The short tracks, the mile-and-a-halfs, we’re really focused in on every aspect of the sport and trying to make sure that we're not leaving any stone unturned.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the green flag alongside teammate Chase Elliott. The Kannapolis, North Carolina native was unable to lead the first lap as Elliott charged passed in Turns 3 and 4.
Elliott led for 4 laps until Brad Keselowski zoomed past on lap 5. The two raced side-by-side for 3 laps until the caution came out on lap 11 as Cole Whitt’s car went up in smoke in Turn 1.
The race went back to green for two laps until the No. 15 Toyota piloted by D.J. Kennington suffered a major engine expiration and spun off Turn 4, bringing out the second caution in the first 20 laps.
A competition caution had been scheduled for lap 20 due to heavy rains overnight and in the morning, however the Kennington spin served as the event’s competition yellow.
Brad Keselowski led the field to the green flag on lap 19, and led the next ten laps, while blocking a hard charging Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski exchanged the lead 6 times, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted to be a part of the mix.
Ryan Blaney pushed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the lead on lap 36. Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., and Blaney raced three wide around the 2.5-mile speedway, but it was Brad Keselowski who came away victorious in stage one and captured his third stage victory of the year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.
Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones inherited the lead under the caution for the stage end, because they pitted on lap 37 just before the end of stage one.
Rookie Erik Jones and 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin exchanged the lead four times over the course of 10 laps.
Pole-sitter and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a flat tire and lost two laps on pit road due to repairs. The 17-time Daytona winner wound up getting in a crash on Lap 106. The damage was too extensive for him to continue, and the No. 88 was taken to the garage.
Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine expired in Turn 4, and the team became the fourth engine failure of the evening.
A ten-car pileup, nicknamed ‘The Big One’ occurred on Lap 72 as Kyle Busch, while riding around the top of the racetrack, experienced a right front tire failure and spun down the track, collecting Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Darrell Wallace Jr., Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, and Jamie McMurray.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano raced side by side on the restart, with Kenseth getting the advantage.
The No. 20 Toyota was able to hold off a late charge by Jimmie Johnson to capture his second stage win of 2017.
Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the green flag on Lap 85, with Stenhouse getting the advantage. Stenhouse led for six laps until the caution came out for Brendan Gaughan. Gaughan would recover and finish in the seventh position.
Gaughan was running inside the top six when he smacked the wall in Turn 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was awarded the free pass after slapping the wall in Stage 3 because he was the first car one lap down at the time of caution.
Daniel Suarez brought the field to the green flag, leading his first laps ever at DIS in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Suarez would lead 11 laps, and finish in the 17th position.
The race wouldn’t stay green for long. On lap 97, Michael McDowell clipped Chase Elliott and sent him down the track, collecting Trevor Bayne. Chase Elliott expressed his frustration with McDowell over the radio after the incident.
“That is the biggest [expletive] I have ever seen.” Elliott said after the crash, referencing to McDowell.
Jimmie Johnson took the lead away from Kenseth and led for 4 laps until Kevin Harvick brought out the ninth caution of the evening.
Coming down off of Turn 2, Harvick’s No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford spun around while running 5th, pinning Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car up against the outside wall. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski were also involved.
Brad Keselowski’s right rear tire went down on Lap 116 and spun up the race track, clipping the outside wall. The damage was beyond repair, and the 2012 Champion took the car behind the wall.
On the restart, while running fourth, Kasey Kahne moved up the track and tried to turn back down to the bottom lane, but David Ragan was already there. Kahne turned across the nose of Ragan and spun down the backstretch.
The event went green for five more laps, but debris was spotted and the yellow flag was brought back out.
After being involved in three separate incidents, Kasey Kahne managed to lead a lap, holding off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and rookie Daniel Suarez.
Several drivers led laps in the waning laps, among those are Ty Dillon, Kasey Kahne, and Daniel Suarez.
But trouble was looming.
With seven laps remaining, Kyle Larson tried to move up to the outside lane, but Stenhouse was already there, bringing out the record 13th caution of the evening.
“I just squeezed Ricky and wrecked myself there.” Larson said after being evaluated and released from the infield care center.
Larson went airborne and miraculously went back down on four wheels. Several other cars were collected, among those are Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Darrell Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez, and Ryan Blaney.
The red flag was displayed for eight minutes and 41 seconds due to extensive cleanup of the racetrack in the tri-oval.
The race restarted with three laps to go, with Ty Dillon and David Ragan on point.
The pack did not make it to Turn 3 before Jamie McMurrary came down the track, sending Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones spinning down the backstretch. Jimmie Johnson also suffered damage from the incident.
The event resumed on lap 161, this time with David Ragan in command.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. charged to the front with two laps to go and captured his second career victory of the season.
Stenhouse Jr. has now won two of the restrictor plate races this season. The next restrictor plate race is not until Talladega Superspeedway in October, the site of Stenhouse’s last win.
Clint Bowyer finished second for the second week in a row, tying his best finish of the season.
Erik Jones was the highest finishing rookie in ninth.
22 cars finished on the lead lap.
Points leader Kyle Larson has an 18 point lead over Martin Truex Jr. SOURCES Racing-Reference.info IMAGES Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images Sean Gardner/Getty Images Matt Sullivan/Getty Images