Stenhouse uses late pass to win Geico 500
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got past Kyle Busch in overtime in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, then held his position to claim his first career NASCAR Cup Series win and snap a 101-race victory drought for car owner Jack Roush.
"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 racetrack 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."
Clauson was a racecar driver who died in a crash last summer at age 27.
Jamie McMurray finished second, Busch was third, Aric Almirola was fourth, and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top five.
"I mean, it's really circumstantial as to what the guys do in front of you and what is happening behind you," McMurray said. "I just got a run at the right time. I thought the No. 17 (Stenhouse) was going to get a little bit farther out, but when we were coming to the line, it just seemed like his car wasn't going at that point, so it was a good finish. It was a great race."
The race ran relatively clean with two cautions at the end of the first two stages and three more yellow flags for single-car incidents until a 16-car wreck with 20 laps remaining. AJ Allmendinger made contact with Chase Elliott, sending Elliott airborne and Allmendinger onto his roof. All drivers involved walked away uninjured.
"I'm fine. I'm happy I didn't get hit upside down. I'm all good," Allmendinger said. "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. ... Chase was kind of -- the No. 18 (Busch) and the No. 24 of Chase, they were kind of moving around, 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."
The yellow flag waved two additional times, once when Landon Cassill failed to get back to the pits with a mechanical issue, and then for a Ryan Newman wreck to send the race into overtime.
Matt Kenseth restarted up front at the end of stage two just past lap 110 after pitting just before the end of the stage and then staying out during the caution between stages. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Busch and Denny Hamlin, were up front with him after taking only two tires during a cycle of green-flag pit stops with about 40 laps to go.
Kenseth, though, was among the cars in the crash in the final 20 laps.
Hamlin claimed his first stage win of the season in the second stage of Sunday's race. A strategically-timed pot stop in the closing laps of the opening stage but Hamlin up front early in stage two and he led most of the stage.
Four drivers stayed out during a caution on lap 82 after pitting late during the previous caution to restart up front. Several other drivers beat Hamlin off pit road by taking fuel only. He was back up front, though, by lap 91.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick joined Hamlin up front. Earnhardt drifted back outside the top 10 by stage-end, but Harvick and Johnson remained in the top five to finish stage two in second and fifth, respectively.
Brad Keselowski was the race leader at the end of the first 55-lap stage of the race, while pole-sitter Stenhouse ran second. Stenhouse led several laps early but fell back to 18th as he attempted to get debris off his grille. Keselowski took the lead by lap 15 when Stenhouse began trying to clean his grille.
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Harvick were the first two off pit road during the first caution on lap 17. Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were one-two in the running order around lap 30, but by lap 34, Keselowski was back up front.
Busch was third at the end of the stage. While running near the front, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Hamlin, Kenseth and Daniel Suarez -- attempted a strategy of pitting just before pit road closed for the last two laps of stage one.
The strategy worked for Hamlin -- after he stayed out at stage-end, he restarted in the lead. Suarez and Kenseth, though, didn't get to the pit commitment line by the time Keselowski crossed the start/finish line and pit road closed. Kenseth's problems compounded with a flat tire that put him a lap down.
Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and David Ragan.
"I could have defended the middle better off of (turn) two," Johnson said. "You just don't know where they are going to go, and you are busy looking in the mirrors and out the windshield, and I'm trying to wee where the leader is and all that kind of stuff."
NOTES: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s pole for the Geico 500 was his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole, but his first since his rookie season of 2013. It was the fifth pole in 10 races for Ford. ... Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski combined to win the last three and four of the last five races at Talladega, but both were without their regular crew chiefs Sunday, as Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon served suspensions for rear-end issues in previous races. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads active drivers in Talladega wins with six, including four straight from 2001 to 2003. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt is the all-time winningest driver at Talladega with 10 wins. ... Earnhardt has started second for both restrictor-plate races so far this year, also starting second in the Daytona 500 in February. ... Aric Almirola won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega on Saturday.