Ricky Stenhouse Jr. triumphs at Daytona, snatching win from upset contender David Ragan

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his second consecutive restrictor-plate race, capturing the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stenhouse snatched the lead from David Ragan on an overtime restart and led the final two laps in his No. 17 Ford. It’s the second career victory for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, who won at Talladega Superspeedway in May.

“This validates what we did at Talladega,” Stenhouse said. “I want to first off thank all the troops that have fallen for our country, for our freedom. That is most important right now. “We have been working hard at Roush Fenway and this pushes us further along.”

Clint Bowyer finished second, followed by Paul Menard, Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman. Ragan, who was trying to qualify underdog Front Row Motorsports for the playoffs for the second consecutive season, finished a season-best sixth in a race filled with multicar crashes.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” said Ragan, who chose the inside lane for the restart despite the oustide lane being fast and then missed a chance to throw a block on Stenhouse after pulling away from second-place Ty Dillon.

The race featured a record 14 caution flags involving 27 drivers, and several of the fastest cars were eliminated early.

Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the Turn 1 wall on the 52nd lap after getting hit by Menard because Earnhardt had slowed with an apparent flat tire.

After falling two laps down for repairs, he climbed back to the lead lap and into the top 10 when he was collected in a four-car crash resulting from a spin by Kevin Harvick, who led three times for seven laps before a cut tire ended his race.

A seven-car wreck on Lap 153 featured Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet getting airborne and a heavy hit for Kurt Busch (neither was injured).

 A 10-car crash on Lap 71 that began with a cut tire for Kyle Busch eliminated Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon.

Defending race winner Brad Keselowski, whose No. 2 Ford led a race-high 35 laps, hit the wall with another cut tire on Lap 117, finishing 31st.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Matt Kenseth

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Michael McDowell finished a career-best fourth. … Brendan Gaughan‘s seventh was his best showing since a sixth in the 2004 season finale. … Corey LaJoie earned a career-best 11th. … Ty Dillon led seven laps and was in front on a restart with two laps remaining in the scheduled distance. … JTG Daugherty Racing earned top 10s with drivers A.J. Allmendinger (eighth) and Chris Buescher (10th).

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Where to start? With 40 laps, five of the prerace favorites with the fastest cars (Harvick, Truex, Keselowski, Earnhardt, Logano and Truex) were out. … Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were eliminated by crashes after running well. … Danica Patrick crashed out of a race for the sixth time this season. … Ryan Sieg, DJ Kennington and Cole Whitt were out within the first 15 laps because of problems related to engine trouble.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We just blew a tire. That’s the way it goes. It just blew out right in the middle of the corner. I hate to wreck half the field. That’s a part of what we do.” — Harvick

WHAT’S NEXT: The Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at 7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, July 8 on NBCSN

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Indianapolis

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. Only one winner in Brickyard 400 (Jeff Gordon, 27th in 2001) has started in a lower position — but if anyone can rebound after qualifying 25th on a track that’s difficult for passing, it’s the Chip Ganassi Racing driver this season.

Dustin Long

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even before Daytona earlier this month I had this vision of Earnhardt scoring his win to make the playoffs at this track. We’ll see if I can see the future.

Daniel McFadin

Jamie McMurray reminds everyone what he’s capable of by earning his second victory in the Brickyard 400.

Jerry Bonkowski

Sentimentally, I’d like to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this one. But from a realistic standpoint, I’m going with Kevin Harvick to earn his second career Brickyard win.

With Matt Kenseth available, Hendrick Motorsports already was set on Alex Bowman long ago

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman as the driver of its No. 88 Chevrolet last week, but the choice effectively was made long ago.

“We had Alex in the back of mind for whatever opportunity we had,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during a news conference Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.”

Hendrick confirmed Bowman signed a multiyear contract last October that runs through 2019 and hardly considered any other options – including impending free agent — Matt Kenseth to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were very, very careful not to guarantee (Bowman) anything other than if opportunities arose, he would have a shot,” Hendrick said. “I can’t make all the decisions. The sponsors have to be involved. But in my mind, Alex was going to get the next (ride).”

When Kenseth revealed two weeks ago that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt was confident his friend would find a ride for 2018.

But with Hendrick having solidified its lineup for next season with Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Bowman and perhaps Kasey Kahne (Hendrick plans to run four Chevrolets next year but left open the possibility that William Byron could drive the No. 5 – “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”), the options for Kenseth remaining in Cup seem limited.

“I love Matt Kenseth,” Hendrick said. “He is a tremendous talent. He and I have actually talked about this in the past. Sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”

Everything has seemed to line up well for Bowman, who drove the No. 88 in 10 races last year while Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. He also has tested for the team in its driving simulator and wheelforce transducer car (which gathers critical setup data).

“A lot of guys have the talent, they just need that one critical break, if they stay committed and keep pushing, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “(Bowman) gets that opportunity because of his commitment to his career and the gamble on himself he made a long time ago.

“He works hard and has been a key investment for Chevrolet, incredibly helpful for the company and race team. It’s very tedious work. He’s been a team player knowing if he put forth this effort, he possibly could get this opportunity.”

Hendrick said he knew little about Bowman before Earnhardt personally vouched for him. Bowman validated the recommendation by winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway last November and leading 194 laps.

“The word for Alex is he deserved it,” Hendrick said. “He deserves a shot. He stepped into the most pressure point. I don’t think there’d be a situation on pit road of having the pressure of sitting in Dale Earnhardt’s car and to perform like he did and then the contributions he’s made to our company to help our guys.”

Rick Hendrick: ‘The plan is to run 4 cars’ next year

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Car owner Rick Hendrick says “the plan” is to run four Cup cars next year even as questions have been raised about the company cutting back to three cars.

Questions have been raised with because the need of sponsorship for the No. 5 team next season. Both Great Clips and Farmer’s Bank Insurance are not returning after this season. Those companies are scheduled to sponsor the car in 22 races this year.

Hendrick said Sunday that “the plan is to run four cars” next year.

The comment was well-received. Jim Campbell, who oversees Chevrolet’s motorsports program, liked a tweet that had Hendrick’s comment about remaining four cars.

Hendrick also was asked Sunday about the status of the No. 5 car driven by Kasey Kahne but said only “that’s for another day” during a press conference with Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide’s Jim McCoy.

Kahne has a contract through next season yet questions have been raised if he’ll be back. If not, an option could be for William Byron, who won Saturday’s Xfintiy race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to move from JR Motorsports into that spot. The 19-year-old Byron, a rookie in the Xfinity Series, has won three of the last five races.

Asked about Byron moving into a Cup car next year, Hendrick said: “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

 and on Facebook

Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

 and on Facebook