It was aggressive. It was ugly. It was Daytona.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headed back to Daytona, the World Centre of Racing, to celebrate the July 4th long weekend amidst fans and fireworks. As the 3rd restrictor plate race this season, this night race almost tied the track’s record for caution flags, with 16 being the record and Saturday night’s race clocking in at 14. In the end, it would be Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that would take the checkered flag. But it was far from easy.
Stage 1 saw a win by Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, with plenty of action and 3 caution flags for Cole Whitt, Ryan Seig, and DJ Kennington respectively, each with their own issue and each at their own time.
By Stage 2, the race was heating up and was noticeably more aggressive causing the first ‘big one’ of the night when Joe Gibb’s driver Kyle Busch in the #18 Toyota got loose on the outside. He spun up the track and then down again, collecting Danica Patrick, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurrary, Martin Truex Jr, Austin Dillon, and Joey Logano, thus ending the night for the latter 3. In the end, Matt Kenseth won the stage, which was his second stage win of the year.
The third and final stage of the race, which consumed 80 of the 160 laps, was nothing short of mayhem with caution after caution starting with Chase Elliott on Lap 100. Most of the field was running 4 wide when Kasey Kahne in the outside lane made contact with Michael McDowell in the center lane. In a domino effect, McDowell pushed Elliott who lost control and spun upon contact with the front of Trevor Bayne before sliding through the backstretch grass.
Fate intervened once again on Lap 106, this time with Kevin Harvick, who got sucked into the wall and spun backward and collected Dale Earnhardt Jr. This was Earnhardt’s second incident of the night – the first happening on Lap 52 after contact with Paul Menard, which caused him to fall 2 laps down during repairs to the car. He benefitted from 2 caution flags which allowed to gain back a lap each time and put him back to 6th thanks to a fast and hard run. Unfortunately, the wreck with Harvick took Jr’s #88 Nationwide Chevy out of commission. Earnhardt Jr. had been favored to win, not only because of his 17 prior wins at Daytona but also because he had won the Pole for the Coke Zero 400. Fans had expressed high hopes that his last run at the infamous track would prove victorious. Alas, it just wasn’t to be, but the love and respect shown to Earnhardt prior to the race were enough to make his night.
Also involved in the Lap 106 wreck was Brad Keselowski, sustaining damage to a tire well. Several laps later, Keselowski could be heard on the radio as he expressed concern for a tire rub and only a few laps later he blew the tire and spun. This effectively ended the night for Keselowski with a 31st place finish.
Only half a lap after the restart, Kahne spun once again but managed to rebound and came away with an 18th place finish.
With 7 laps to go, Kyle Larson came across the front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and instantly was airborne, slamming back onto the track directly in front of Ryan Blaney in the #21 Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford. Unable to stop or move out the way, Blaney T-boned Larson and both drivers incurred so much damage they were instantly out of the race. In the chaos of drivers attempting to avoid the wreck, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Darrell Wallace Jr. were collected.
The race went into overtime with rookie driver Ty Dillon in the lead and AJ Allmendinger to the right. In the 3 laps remaining, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was able to overtake both drivers and maintain a comfortable lead despite Clint Bowyer trying to close the gap. This is Stenhouse’s second win of the season and of his Cup career. Girlfriend Danica Patrick joined him in Victory Lane to celebrate while a series of colorful fireworks cracked the night sky.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday, July 8th, 2017 at 7:30. Get your tickets HERE.