Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Bristol

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway saw a lot of stop-and-go thanks to rain that caused Sunday’s event to be postponed to Monday, but not before the event was red flagged three times for weather.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars went 204 laps before the remainder of the event got pushed to Monday, when a former champion and 11-year veteran scored their best finishes of the year.

Five different organizations are featured in this week’s top-5 for the first time this season.

No. 1 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson may have won this event one year ago, but immediately was put at a disadvantage when an unapproved tire change after qualifying forced the team to give up their starting position.

Johnson recovered to finish third at Bristol, giving the Hendrick Motorsports driver his first top-5 of the season. Johnson had not earned a top-5 since October of 2017 when he finished third at Dover.

Johnson sits 17th in the points standings, 196 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He is one point behind Paul Menard in the 16th position and 72 points from 10th place.

When will Johnson find victory lane? Can Richmond be that place? The 7-time champion has three wins at the three-quarter mile track.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson may have been looking for redemption after an early crash at Texas took him out of contention, but it didn’t run as smoothly as the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hoped for.

Larson was leading when he spun on Lap 324 after receiving a bump from behind from Ryan Newman, but the 25-year-old recovered and re-took the lead on Lap 439. Larson battled with Busch for the remainder of the event, before falling to second in the closing laps.

Larson received stage points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 after crossing the finish line in the fifth position. He sits ninth in the points standings, 116 points behind Busch.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola gained 16 positions from his finish at the half-mile track one year ago.

Almirola avoided trouble to earn a seventh place finish at Stage 1 end, but drifted to the back at midrace. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver ran as high as third before finishing sixth, earning his third top-10 of the season.

Almirola sits 11th in the points standings, 154 points behind Busch and 30 points behind teammate Kurt Busch, who is in the 10th position.

No. 4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr quietly and consistently ran up front at Bristol, while earning his first top-5 of the season.

Stenhouse earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (sixth) during the event.

Stenhouse, who finished fourth, gained four spots in the points standings. He’s now in 18th place, 203 points behind the leader.

No. 5 David Ragan – David Ragan earned his best finish of the season at Bristol when he finished in 12th place.

Ragan failed to earn stage points, but was as high as seventh with an average position of 20th place.

This is Ragan’s best finish since finishing 10th at Talladega in the fall.

The momentum gained from this finish can help Ragan at Richmond before heading to Talladega, where the Front Row Motorsports driver has one win, four top-5s, and nine top-10 finishes.

Notables: Busch’s win at Bristol marked the first time in thirty-one years that a driver won at the half-mile track while leading the points standings. The feature was last accomplished by Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1987.

Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first African American driver since 1963 to lead a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event. Wallace led for six laps, before his No. 43 STP Chevrolet began to lose the handling that allowed the rookie contender to battle with two former champions. Wallace salvaged for a 16th place finish.

Daniel Suarez earned an 11th place finish despite suffering a broken finger last weekend at Texas. Suarez also led for five laps on Monday’s rain postponed event.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earns Daytona Victory

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolled into Daytona International Speedway Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wasn’t one of the most talked about, despite his win at its sister track Talladega two months ago. But he was the one with all the glory Saturday night.

Stenhouse propelled himself to victory in overtime to earn his second career victory this season. A feature no one could have predicted, but everyone can appreciate.

Stenhouse started beside David Ragan on the restart after a incident involving Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones brought out the caution. Ragan gained the lead, but Stenhouse quickly made his way to the front for the top spot.

“I was really having to lift a lot to keep from running over the cars in front of us,” Stenhouse said. “Even when I was leading, I could run not-full-throttle and be able to keep them at a certain distance. … I was pretty surprised with our damage that we were able to stay up front that last lap and a half.”

Stenhouse won the Coke Zero 400 in a brand new car that Roush Fenway built for him. The car that he won with at Talladega was gifted to Stenhouse by team owner Jack Roush for his first career MENCS victory.

Stenhouse is one of five drivers that have multiple wins this season. He sits 16th in the standings with nine races to go in the regular season.

The race was plagued with several multi-car accidents that left many of the favored contenders with finishes of 20th or worse.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in a wreck on Lap 52 after he felt one of his tires was losing air. That turned out to be a false alarm, however he made contact with Paul Menard and was two laps behind the leaders.

Earnhardt just received the free pass before being collected in a crash after a blown tire sent the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick spinning. Stage 1 winner Brad Keselowski was also involved, ending his night with a finish of 31st.

In the chaotic night the top 10 finishers of the night were practically unrecognizable. Paul Menard, Michael McDowell, and Xfinity Series regular Brendan Gaughan all claimed finishes inside the top 10, with BK Racing’s Corey Lajoie just outside in 11th place.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head under the lights again at Kentucky on July 8, 2017 at 7:30 p.m ET.