Stenhouse wins Coke Zero 400 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. claimed his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and his second of the season Saturday night when he took the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Stenhouse took his final lead on an overtime restart, getting a push from Michael McDowell. Clint Bowyer, though, got up to second on the final lap to take runner-up honors. Paul Menard finished third, while McDowell held on to finish fourth, a career best. Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.
The race was attrition-filled, with the yellow flag waving 14 times, a record for the July race at Daytona. Early-race cautions came mostly due to blown engines or stages ending, but later cautions came for wrecks, including the 13th caution of the race with under 10 laps remaining.
That wreck resulted in a red flag with six laps remaining after Kyle Larson's car got airborne and Danica Patrick's caught fire.
The yellow flag waved for the final time after a restart with three laps remaining in the scheduled distance when Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones spun and sent the race into overtime.
More than a quarter of the 40 cars that started the race failed to finish and more than half were involved in at least some degree in an on-track incident. Drivers retiring from the race early included pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After going two laps down early because of a tire problem, Earnhardt eventually got back on the lead lap and raced back into the top-10 before being part of a five-car wreck that brought out the ninth caution of the race around lap 106.
With the high number of cautions that littered the race, pit strategies varied throughout the race. Regulars up front throughout the second half of the race were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and series rookie Daniel Suarez, but Kenseth was out of the race after involvement in the wreck that brought the 13th caution.
Brad Keselowski, who led 32 laps in dominating the first 40-lap stage of the race, was also among those who retired early. He fell out of the race after spinning and hitting the wall on lap 116.
Kenseth was the leader at lap 80, the halfway mark, and the end of stage two of the 160-lap race.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was second at the end of stage two.
After pitting under green on lap 16 because his right-rear wheel was secured by only one lug nut after a previous yellow-flag caution, Hamlin and Erik Jones pitted under green on lap 37 and cycled to the top-two positions when everyone else pitted under yellow after stage one.
Hamlin and Jones led laps early in the second stage, and Hamlin was up front for another restart past lap 60. He was joined up front by Kenseth, who had taken the lead by the time a caution came out on lap 70 for a multi-car crash that started with another JGR driver, Kyle Busch, getting turned.
Other drivers collected in the wreck included points leaders Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.
Earnhardt lost the lead to Chase Elliott on the first lap, and then Keselowski moved into the lead early. Earnhardt was back up front late in the stage, battling Keselowski for the lead.
A few laps into the second stage, Earnhardt got into the wall with a flat tire, sustaining significant damage to his car. Larson's car also received damage in the melee, but the race remained green.
Blown engines were a theme in the opening stage. The yellow flag waved twice in the first 40 laps, both times for engine issues.
Cole Whitt's blown engine resulted in the first caution on lap 10. The yellow waved again on lap 16 for D.J. Kennington's blown engine. Another caution came before lap 60 for Jeffrey Earnhardt's blown engine.
Ryan Sieg also blew an engine early, but the race remained green.
NOTES: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fastest in final practice Thursday and in the first round of qualifying before winning the pole Friday. The Earnhardt-Chase Elliott one-two start was a reverse of the Daytona 500 front row, with Elliott on the pole and Earnhardt starting second. ... Brad Keselowski won last year's Coke Zero 400. Kurt Busch won the 2017 Daytona 500 in February. ... Four drivers -- Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray -- are the only four active drivers with wins in the 400- and 500-mile races at Daytona International Speedway. ... Jacob Canter, a fill-in for a fill-in, was Kyle Busch's crew chief for the Coke Zero 400. Regular crew chief Adam Stevens continues his four-race suspension for a wheel coming off the car during the race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Stevens' original fill-in, Ben Beshore, was suspended for one race after the car had two lug nuts loose or missing at the end of the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway event June 25. ... Saturday was a NASCAR doubleheader. The Xfinity Series race, scheduled for Friday night, was delayed until Saturday for rain. Some drivers, including Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, Brendan Gaughan, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon, Ryan Sieg, and Erik Jones ran both races.