CUP: Ricky Stenhouse ‘Parks It’ For Clauson In Talladega Thriller

Jacob Seelman Cup, Featured 0 Comments

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. takes the checkered flag to win Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. (NASCAR photo)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – It may have taken him seven years and 158 races, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finally found his way to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

At the track closest to his home of Olive Branch, Mississippi, Stenhouse lined up on the front row alongside leader Kyle Busch for an overtime restart, just looking for a lucky break after winning the pole earlier in the weekend.

He got it in the form of a huge push from seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, surging down the backstretch and drawing alongside Busch in Turns 3 and 4 as the pair steamed towards the white flag.

Once Johnson got back to his back bumper again, Stenhouse was able to clear Busch off the exit of Turn 2 and played perfect defense over the final half-lap, blocking inside and out on the way to the checkered flag.

Stenhouse beat a charging Jamie McMurray to the checkered flag by .095 of a second, the closest finish so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

He becomes the 11th driver to score his first Cup win at Talladega and the first to do so since Brad Keselowski in 2009.

“This is for all the guys at the shop,” said Stenhouse, whose last-lap pass was the 24th in Talladega history. “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 race track for us and we proved why today.”

“I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson. He was with us on that last lap.”

Sunday also broke a 101-race winless drought for Roush Fenway Racing, dating back to Carl Edwards’ victory at Sonoma Raceway in 2014.

“I can’t say enough about the guys … and it’s cool to have Jack Roush back in victory lane,” Stenhouse added. “This Monster Energy Cup Series is so fun to race in and I’m just glad to see Jack smiling here in victory lane. I know he’s been wanting this for a long time, so to be up there with Jimmie and Kyle racing as hard as we did … we beat some good ones today.”

McMurray fought his way up the middle off the exit of Turn 2 on the last lap, forcing his way between Busch and Johnson to get to the runner-up position in the end.

“I just got a run at the right time,” McMurray explained. “I thought the No. 17 (Stenhouse) was going to get a little bit further out, but when we were coming to the line it just seemed like his car wasn’t going at that point. It was a good finish and a great race. We had good pit stops and the guys did a great job.”

“We have run so well at so many tracks this year; this was a track that I just wanted to survive at so we could get to another track and race, and today we did just that.”

Ricky Stenhouse celebrates his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. (NASCAR photo)

Busch came home third after leading a race-high 48 laps, saying he was helpless to defend the charge from Stenhouse at the end.

“When they have too big of a run like that, you can’t do anything about it,” said Busch. “Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push. Once he got by us there, it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind.”

“We did all we could here today … but unfortunately circumstances didn’t quite go our way. We go to a real race track next week, so we’ll try to win there.”

Aric Almirola’s Ford and Kasey Kahne’s Chevrolet were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Paul Menard and David Ragan completed the top 10.

Sunday’s race was mostly calamity-free through the majority of the day, with only four cautions slowing the pace prior to 28 laps to go, when Ryan Blaney slapped the outside wall on the backstretch.

However, that incident set up a restart that led to the Big One with 20 to go, when A.J. Allmendinger got into the back of Chase Elliott and sent the second-generation driver spinning up into the pack.

As cars piled in with nowhere to go, Elliott caught airtime halfway down the backstretch and Allmendinger went up and over onto his roof after contact with Joey Logano, before a slew of drivers came to rest and the smoke began to clear.

In all, 16 cars were involved in the accident, but no one was injured.

The day’s final caution flew with three laps left, when Ryan Newman pounded the inside wall after being tipped out of the pack, setting the stage for the overtime finish that extended the race to 191 laps.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on May 13, with the first Saturday night race of the season taking place at Kansas Speedway.

Full race results can be viewed on the next page…

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