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Stenhouse Jr. ruffles feathers — and fenders — at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was prominently featured in the driver meeting before Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 as the race’s defending champion. Despite finishing 17th — matching his car number — he was still front and center post-race with his involvement in five of the race’s eight crashes.

Stenhouse was the instigator in a pair of the multi-car incidents that thinned the field in Stage 2, but he said afterward that he didn’t feel he needed to mend fences with any of his fellow drivers after a chaos-filled night at Daytona International Speedway.

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“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing,” Stenhouse said. “We needed to win to get in the Playoffs, so it is what it is.”

Stenhouse swept both stages in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford to collect a pair of valuable playoff points should he make the postseason, but he left Daytona as the first driver outside of the provisional field of 16. He also left with a handful of drivers upset at him, and officials with his team, the track and NASCAR arranged for a security escort to ensure his safety as he walked through the Monster Energy Series garage.

Most notably dismayed were brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, both of whom were knocked out in Stage 2 crashes involving Stenhouse. Kurt Busch was the first brother sidelined, swallowed up after Stenhouse made contact with Brad Keselowski, creating a massive Turn 3 stack-up that enveloped nearly half the field.

Busch said after being released from the infield care center that he had to laugh at his fate, minding his own business in a seemingly safe position near the front. Upon further post-race reflection, the elder Busch was more peeved, calling the race a “#StenhouseDD (demolition derby)” and recognizing his position in the points.

The younger Busch was out just 11 laps later after contact with Stenhouse that also ensnared rookie William Byron. “I got hit in the left rear. Same guy that caused the first one caused the second one there,” Kyle Busch said. “That’s very disappointing. He is probably going to be fastest car left – he might win the race.” 

Stenhouse didn’t, though he led six times for a race-high 51 laps with one of the strongest cars in the field.

“It was fun for a while. I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that,” Stenhouse said. “You don’t ever really want to do that. For us, my car was a lot of fun to drive. Everybody else had a lot of handling issues and my car drove really good and had really good speed, so hats off to Jimmy Fennig (Roush Fenway’s superspeedway program manager) and those guys and (engine builder) Doug Yates. We just didn’t finish it off.”