DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the focal point of two wrecks that collected 29 cars at Daytona International Speedway, but the breadth of his apology was limited Saturday night.
“Nah, I mean it’s aggressive speedway racing,” the Roush Fenway Racing driver said when asked if he would need to do some damage control after the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (in which his driving took such an aggressive toll, it required a precautionary police escort out of the garage). “I think we needed to win to get in the playoffs, and so it is what it is.”
Stenhouse went a long way toward winning his second consecutive July race at Daytona, leading a race-high 51 laps and winning the first two stages (and earning playoff points).
But eventually all of the mayhem he had a large part in triggering came back to haunt Stenhouse on Lap 124 when his No. 17 Ford was involved in its third crash. This one wasn’t directly Stenhouse’s fault, but he still had a role – Kyle Larson spun in Turn 4 because of a cut tire likely resulting from damage he had earned in a Lap 54 wreck (that started when Brad Keselowski collided with Stenhouse).
Stenhouse, who had just pitted a lap earlier under green, ran into Larson.
“It all came back to get me,” Stenhouse said.
His No. 17 Ford limped home to a 17th place finish, a lap down after a spin again on Lap 150 because of a blown tire.
The car’s left side was completely destroyed as Stenhouse parked it in the pit lane. After a pat on the shoulder from Roush president Steve Newmark, Stenhouse turned to a gaggle of reporters with a bemused smile and ran his fingers through his hair with resignation while watching first-time winner Erik Jones doing an interview on a giant videoboard.
“Well, I was really … really bummed,” he said. “The first (crash), (William Byron) blocked (Brad Keselowski) and from where I was sitting, I thought we were going to get to the inside of him, so I really wasn’t expecting him to check up that quick.
“The second (crash) with (Kyle Busch), too aggressive, trying to get to his left rear. Trying to get back to the lead, back out front where our Ford was really dominant.”
While many drivers seemed to struggle with handling, Stenhouse said his Fusion was “a lot of fun to drive,” and he seemed able to dictate the pace while at the front.
It was virtually a must-win situation for Stenhouse, who was vocal on the team radio during last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway about his team’s lack of performance recently.
He lamented Thursday that there had been some “tough conversations” during the past week, and there didn’t seem to be short-term improvements in sight at the 1.5-mile tracks that dominate the schedule.
Saturday at Daytona, one of four restrictor-plate races on the schedule, represented his last, best shot at making the playoffs with a win (which he did last season by winning at Talladega Superspeedway, the first of his two career wins, both at plate tracks).
“We definitely brought I feel like the best car here in the field,” he said. “Winning two stages was nice, but obviously we wanted to win at the end, and it was a bummer we basically crashed all of our teammates out of it.
“It was kind of tough after that. Congrats to Erik on his first win, that’s pretty cool, but I felt like for most of the race, we had the best shot at it.”
After such an eventful race, Stenhouse’s night thankfully ended with an uneventful walk to the driver motorhome lot while being followed by two officers.
A track spokesman confirmed the escort was arranged through the cooperation of Daytona International Speedway, the team and NASCAR.