TALLADEGA, Ala . — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. climbed from his car after finishing fifth Sunday, walked to Kevin Harvick’s car on pit road and shrugged.
“I pointed to his (win) stickers, that he had three of them, I need one,’’ Stenhouse said.
Instead, Joey Logano earned his first victory sticker in more than a year after a 200-mph game of chess left Logano with all the best moves and pieces, and one driver questioning the late-race actions of the Ford drivers, who took six of the top seven spots.
“I was really surprised with how patient they were being with one another,’’ said Chase Elliott, who finished third, of the Ford drivers that ran at the front in the final laps. “Really thought they would want to win a little more than what they did, or at least showed to me.’’
Stenhouse wanted to win — he talked Friday of how aggressive he planned to be — but he admitted after Sunday’s race his car wasn’t as fast as it had been when he won this race a year ago or even in this year’s Daytona 500.
“We weren’t super pleased with the speed in our cars, so we’ll go back to the shop and work on it and bring another fast one to Daytona (in July),’’ Stenhouse said.
Even so, most were keeping an eye on Stenhouse, who was running fourth in those final laps. Logano and his team figured the key move would come from Stenhouse and Elliott, running fifth.
Kurt Busch, who was third in the final laps, was waiting on Stenhouse’s No. 17 Ford to make its move.
“Stenhouse came up from behind and tried to make some moves,’’ Busch said. “Nine times out of the 10 the 17 car statistically is going to be the guy to beat at a plate race.’’
Not this time.
“Stenhouse came with such a run from behind, I knew at that point (Elliott) would shove to the inside, then it would be the 17 and 41 to the outside,’’ Busch said. “It happened for half a straightaway then things kind of broke apart with everybody getting stuck side‑by‑side.’’
Said Harvick: “(Busch) pulled out sooner than I thought he would there, and we wound up getting hung out.’’
Logano led on the last lap with Busch behind, but the other challengers were side-by-side and unable to break away from each other. With Busch and Harvick split, they couldn’t team up on Logano.
“Once they got two‑wide, I felt better with it,’’ said Logano, who led the final 42 laps. “Their runs don’t usually come as quickly when cars are two‑wide. Especially at the end of the race, everyone is going to be on each other’s door, trying to pull each other back.’’
Busch couldn’t get the push he needed with Stenhouse unable to break free from Harvick, who was on the inside.
Busch got some momentum off of Turn 4, but Logano easily made the block to secure the victory.
“Kevin was in good position,’’ Busch said. “I was going to roll with him in any direction that I could. We just got broken up by Stenhouse. Man, it’s just so close. You wish you could go over and do it again. I feel like I left that one out on the table.’’
And left Logano celebrating.
“That feeling when you get across the line, man, there ain’t nothing like that,’’ Logano said. “I haven’t been that excited probably since the 500.’’