DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had a rollercoaster career, struggling to keep a job, losing his seat on a NASCAR powerhouse team and starting his 14th season on a five-year losing streak.
To say that this Daytona 500 was a milestone race would be an understatement – for Stenhouse and for NASCAR.
Stenhouse won the Daytona 500 in double overtime and under caution Sunday night in the longest run of The Great American Race. The two extensions brought the 65th edition of the race to a record 212 laps – a dozen laps over the planned distance and a whopping 530 miles (850 km).
It made for anxious moments before a landmark celebration: the first winning team of the Daytona 500, owned by a black man and woman.
Stenhouse’s win for JTG Daugherty Racing was the third of his career. JTG is the first single car team to win the Daytona 500 since The Wood Brothers Racing did it with Trevor Bayne in 2011.
The team is owned by Tad and Jodi Geschicker along with former NBA player Brad Daugherty.
Daugherty, who left the track on Sunday with an eye irritation, is the first black female car owner to win the race, and Jodi Geschickter joined Teresa Earnhardt as a female car owner to win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt ran Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the 2003 and 2004 Daytona 500.
To get on the winning track on Sunday, JTG stuck by Stenhouse and even reunited him this season with the crew chief who guided him to two Xfinity series titles years ago.
Mike Kelly’s biggest challenge was convincing Sthouse that he could actually win races. So, in front of the Daytona 500, he stuck a note inside the Chevrolet. The message? The team believes in the driver.
“When I woke up today, I told myself I would do something I used to do for Ricky when we had rough days,” Kelly said. “I just wrote him a note that only he would see. It was on top of the roll bar in front of him, and it just said, ‘We believe.’ That was our motto the whole offseason – we believe in that.
“We’re trying to get people to believe in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. again.”
Stenhouse’s only other wins came at Talladega in 2017 and at the Daytona summer race.
Now the 35-year-old from Olive Branch, Mississippi, has clinched a repeat victory in NASCAR’s biggest race of the season at Daytona.
“I think Mike has been just preaching this whole offseason about how much we all believe in each other. They left me a note in the car saying to believe in me and get the job done,” Stenhouse said. “Man, that’s incredible. This was the side of my last win in 2017. We worked really hard. We had a few shots to win last year and fell short.
“It’s been a tough season but man we did it, Daytona 500.”
Kyle Larson was caught falling at the end of the race after jumping out of line too early to win. His disappointment was tempered by Stenhouse’s victory.
“Happy that Ricky won. I’m super happy. That’s all I could think about after falling and waiting for him to win,” Larson said. “He’s one of my best friends so I would have screamed into my helmet helping him get him to the top there. I was hoping it would stay green so I or he would have won.
“I can’t wait to get changed and give him a big hug because he’s one of my awesome buddies.”
Reigning Cup Champion Joey Logano was second in a Ford for Team Penske, who won last year’s race with Austin Cindric.
“Second is the worst, man,” said Logano. “Congratulations to Ricky. There’s nothing like winning the Daytona 500. That’s why finishing second hurts so much.”
Christopher Bell was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, followed by Chris Buescher in a Ford for RFK Racing and polesitter Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports in a Chevrolet. It was the first time the polesitter had finished in the top five since Bill Elliott in 2001.
AJ Allmendinger was sixth for Kaulig Racing, Daniel Suarez seventh for Trackhouse Racing and Ryan Blaney eighth for Team Penske. Trackhouse’s Ross Chastain and Rick Ware Racing’s Riley Herbst completed the top 10.
Action sports star Travis Pastrana finished eleventh in his Daytona 500 debut and Kevin Harvick finished twelfth in his last Daytona 500. Harvick is retiring at the end of the year.
Kyle Busch dropped to 0 for 18 at the Daytona 500 but competed for his new Richard Childress Racing team. He was the leader ahead of teammate Austin Dillon with three laps left in the regulations when a spin by Daniel Suarez highlighted caution and sent the race into overtime.
“That was the win in 1998 guys,” Busch radioed his team in a reference to how the late Dale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500. There was no overtime at the time, and Earnhardt won under caution.
Busch finished 19th in the second overtime after crashing at the end of the race.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve led at lap 200 so I wish it was 1998 rules. But no it’s normal, just used to it and come here every year to find out when and where I fall and what lap I come out of the care center,” Busch said. “Who won? I don’t even know who was lucky.”
Busch was told Stenhouse was the winner.
“There you have it,” he replied.
Seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson returned to the series and drove in the top 15 for most of the race. He was picked up in one of the overtime crashes and finished 31st. Johnson has returned from two years of racing in the IndyCar Series as a Legacy Motor Club co-owner and plans to compete in a handful of races.
Brad Keselowski led by a race record for 42 laps but finished 22nd. He declined to speak to reporters after falling to 0 for 14 in a race he was desperate to win.
The Cup Series runs next Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in the last race of the track’s current configuration. It will be converted to a short track after the race – a project that will prevent the track from being raced in 2024. Kyle Larson won the race last year.
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