Ricky Stenhouse wins first career NASCAR Cup race, captures Geico 500

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead on the final lap and then held on to win his first career NASCAR Cup race, capturing Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The race finished in overtime at 191 laps, three laps past the scheduled 188 laps.

Jamie McMurray finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.

Sixth through 10th were Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and David Ragan.

Stenhouse, a former two-time Xfinity Series champion, earned the victory in his 158th career NASCAR Cup start and becomes the 11th first-time winner at Talladega. The win broke Roush Fenway Racing’s 101-race winless streak (last victory was June 22, 2014 at Sonoma) and was the organization’s 136th all-time win.

“We’ve been terrible for a long time, but this year, every race, we’re getting better and better,” Stenhouse told Fox Sports. “This car was so fast today, qualifying on the pole, get the win. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in victory lane. This is cool, closest track to my home town and man, the fans were here this weekend.”

MORE: Results, stats for Geico 500 at Talladega: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. breaks through

MORE: Cup points standings after Talladega: Kyle Larson widens lead

The win marked Stenhouse’s third top-five finish and fifth top-10 in the last seven races.

“Stenhouse got a real good run and good push and got by us and then it was about retaliation, to get back on him,” Busch told Fox Sports. “I just never had enough help from behind. … We did all we could today. Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t go our way.”

MORE: Fords dominate Stage 1 at Talladega: Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finish 1-2

MORE: Denny Hamlin wins Stage 2 of Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

A multi-car wreck – the only big one of the race – occurred with 20 laps to go, resulting in a red flag that lasted 26 minutes and 51 seconds. Eighteen cars – nearly half of the 40-driver field – were involved.

Those involved were : A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Danica Patrick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Cole Whitt, Brendan Gaughan, Corey LaJoie, Chase Elliott and Gray Gaulding

It appeared that Allmendinger was trying to push Elliott forward in the draft when the former hooked the latter around. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick hooked Allmendinger’s car, too.

While Elliott rode the top of the wall while Allmendinger’s car wound up on its roof, and safety workers had to pull the car on its wheels before he unstrapped and climbed out. Allmendinger walked to the ambulance under his own power.

“I was battling for the lead, the 18 and 24 were leading the two packs, and the 4 was just on me,” Allmendinger told Fox Sports. “Once I got to Chase, I got loose, I barely tapped him, I tried to get off him and at that point, it was just too late.”

Elliott added to Fox Sports, “He just apologized. I don’t know if it was really his fault, per se. He had a big run, got to my bumper and was kind of in a bad spot.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winningest active driver at Talladega with six wins, suffered a loose wheel 14 laps to go and limped back to pit road for service, finishing 22nd.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

HOW STENHOUSE WON: Having the fastest car of the weekend was a major factor. Stenhouse has been steadily climbing up the performance ladder this season, led 14 laps in Sunday’s race and emerged with his first winner’s trophy of his Cup career after more than six years of trying.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Jamie McMurray got past Kyle Busch on the final lap, but didn’t have quite enough to reach Stenhouse. Another lap, and maybe he might have. … Aric Almirola won Saturday’s Xfinity race and rallied to finish fourth in Sunday’s race, tying his highest finish this season of fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Several drivers suffered poor finishes due to being involved in wrecks, including Chase Elliott (30th), Joey Logano (32nd), Erik Jones (33rd), Martin Truex Jr. (35th), Austin Dillon (36th), Trevor Bayne (37th), Danica Patrick (38th) and Ryan Blaney (39th).

NOTABLE: The No. 43 Ford of Aric Almirola failed post-race inspection. He finished the race one point out of 16th place — the last playoff-eligible spot — but now faces a potential 35-point penalty. Also, the No. 7 of Elliott Sadler was found to have one lug nut not secured. … Joe Gibbs Racing had strong runs from Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, but remains winless in the first 10 races of the 2017 season. … Kasey Kahne’s fifth-place finish was his second top-5 of the season. He finished fourth at Atlanta in the second race of 2017.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We go to a real race track next week and try to win there.” – A disappointed Kyle Busch, who couldn’t hold off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the win and finished third.

WHAT’S NEXT: Go Bowling 400, Saturday, May 13, 7:30 p.m. ET, Kansas Speedway

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmie Johnson for top 10; congratulates Austin Dillon for Coke 600 win

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CONCORD, N.C. – On the night the number synonymous with his legendary father returned to victory lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found some consolation in his final Coca-Cola 600.

Earnhardt placed 10th in the circuit’s longest race, his best showing since a fifth in the April 9 race at Texas Motor Speedway. He improved a spot to 23rd in the points standings after a dismal showing by his No. 88 Chevrolet in last week’s All-Star Race.

“The car got better last couple of runs,” Earnhardt said. “We made a lot of changes, and some of them (were) working pretty good.  We would have liked to have run a little bit better than that for sure.  We think we should be running in the top five every week as a team, so that is still not really good enough, but compared to last week it’s a huge improvement.”

Earnhardt credited some of the improvement to teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th after his No. 48 Chevy ran out of fuel while leading with two laps remaining.

“He was communicating with me all week, calling me, talking on the phone,” Earnhardt said. “He would come across the garage and get in my window even during practice.  Get out of his car and come talk to me.  What a great teammate. I hated to see him run out of gas.”

But he was happy to see the win by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet that was driven by his father. Richard Childress Racing sidelined the number from February 2001-14 after the seven-time champion’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

“Congratulations to Austin, man, that is awesome for RCR and Richard,” Earnhardt said. “Anytime they can win, it’s pretty cool.”

Earnhardt will get one more shot to win at Charlotte. In 34 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he has a career-best third in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600.

Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.