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

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kevin Harvick’s rear tire changer sidelined by cancer treatment

Photo: Dustin Long
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, left a hospital Saturday afternoon after surgery this week as part of his cancer treatment.

Smith, who had the planned surgery Thursday, told NBC Sports through a team spokesperson that he should be back in four to six weeks. The Cup playoffs begin in four weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was shortly before the Bristol night race last year that doctors discovered Smith had testicular cancer. He spent the day before that race undergoing scans, blood work and other tests to determine if the cancer had spread. Doctors found that the cancer had infected two lymph nodes in his lower abdomen and also saw a spot on his lung that was concerning.

Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, was released from a hospital Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dustin Long)

Two days after last year’s Bristol night race, Smith had surgery to remove the tumor in his testicle. After a few weeks to heal, he began chemotherapy treatments. Each round consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery. He had four rounds (12 weeks) of treatments. Smith returned to the track to watch Harvick compete in the championship race in Miami last year and then was back to changing tires at Daytona in February.

Thursday’s surgery is expected to be the final one Smith needs. Tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is the first he’s missed this season. He stated through a team spokesperson that he walked a mile in the hospital Friday and again on Saturday before his release.

Harvick, who won last weekend at Michigan, starts eighth in tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Matt DiBenedetto focused on winning as he looks for 2020 ride

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Looking for a ride for next season, Matt DiBenedetto enters tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway focused on one goal.

“I want to win in Cup,” says the driver whose family moved from California to North Carolina when he was a teen to help his racing career, who ran start-and-parks at one time in the Xfinity Series to keep in the sport and who has 13 races left in what is the best ride of his five-year Cup career.

DiBenedetto found out this week that he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after this season. DiBenedetto said that “I don’t want to say I was blindsided” but said he held out hope that “my performance behind the wheel (would) do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything.”

Instead, business matters prevailed. With Erik Jones near an extension to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing — keeping all four driver spots there filled — Toyota and JGR needed a place to move Christopher Bell from the Xfinity Series to Cup. Leavine Family Racing’s alliance with JGR makes it the natural spot for Bell. While Bell said this week nothing is set, all signs point to him driving the No. 95 car next year.

Despite his disappointment, DiBenedetto remains grateful to Leavine Family Racing for the chance to run the No. 95 this year.

“I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity,” he said. 

Still, about a year after DiBenedetto left his ride with Go Fas Racing and unsure of where he’d land, he’s again looking for a ride for the upcoming season.

“I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old,” said DiBenedetto, who starts seventh in tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

As for what he might do next year, he’s not sure.

“I have no irons in the fire per se, yet, but this all just happened just this week,” he said.

One question is if it might be possible for him to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program — DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut with JGR in 2009 as a development driver and he will drive the team’s No. 18 Xfinity car in the upcoming race at Road America.

“I don’t think there is that opportunity or as of now, there’s not,” he said. “Not that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to the Toyota folks and stuff and I don’t foresee any opportunities within the camp, I don’t think. Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front.”

Maybe something good will happen to him tonight. Bristol is where he scored his first Cup top 10 in 2016, placing sixth for an underfunded BK Racing team. He and his family celebrated that finish on pit road after the race.

Alex Bowman, who also drove for underfunded teams before working his way up to a ride at Hendrick Motorsports, is rooting for DiBenedetto to remain in Cup next season.

“I think he does a really good job in the race car,” Bowman said. “Obviously, he has shown that he continues to deserve (a Cup ride). He’ll land on his feet. Everything happens for a reason. I was pretty bummed when I lost my gig. It all ended up working out for the better.”

Tonight’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, lineup and more

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With the playoffs looming in a few weeks, the Cup Series returns its short-track roots tonight for a rumble under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch have won the last four races in “Thunder Valley.” Who can claim the Bristol throne from the brothers?

Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:41 p.m. by Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Richard Childress; Bill Dance, legendary fisherman; Becky Humphries, National Wild Turkey Foundation CEO; Nick Wiley, Director of Conservation Ducks Unlimited; R. Joseph Hamilton, QDMA Founder and Senior Advisor; John Eastman, QDMA Senior Director of Operations. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1:30 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Ronda Paulson, Founder and Executive Director of Isaiah 177 House. MRO Kids will perform the National Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile short track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 7 p.m. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m and also can be heard on goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts clear skies, a temperature of 86 degrees with no chance of precipitation at the race start time.

LAST TIME: Kurt Busch won this race last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch won in the spring over Kurt Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup

Results, points after Xfinity race at Bristol

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Tyler Reddick capitalized on Justin Allgaier‘s misfortunes and led the final 11 laps to win Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It is his fourth win of the season.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeremy Clements and Austin Cindric.

Click here for the results.

Points

Reddick keeps his lead in the standings with a 55-point advantage over Christopher Bell.

The top five is completed by Cole Custer (-139 points), Allgaier (-159) and Cindric (-193).

Click here for the point standings.