Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins Daytona 500 to begin NASCAR’s 75th season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In the longest Daytona 500 in NASCAR history, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got help from an unexpected source and won the sport’s most prestigious race when a wild wreck froze the field in the second overtime.

Stenhouse and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano were battling for the lead on Lap 212 when contact from Aric Almirola’s Ford started Travis Pastrana’s Toyota spinning in Turn 2. Pastrana’s Camry clipped the Chevrolet of Kyle Larson and set it rocketing into the outside wall.

Tires screamed, sparks flew and smoke billowed as the cars of defending race winner Austin Cindric, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney were all collected in the chaotic wreck.

But when NASCAR hit the button to illuminate the caution lights, Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet edged ahead of Logano’s Ford, thanks to a timely shove from the third-place finishing Toyota of Christopher Bell, who, like Stenhouse, arrived at the pinnacle of pavement racing from a dirt-track background.

NASCAR declared Stenhouse the winner of the 65th running of the event, a perfect christening of the renewed relationship between the driver and crew chief Mike Kelley, with whom Stenhouse won his two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships more than a decade earlier. It also gave manufacturer Chevrolet its 25th win in the Great American Race.

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“Yeah, I think this whole offseason Mike just preached how much we all believed in each other,” Stenhouse said after climbing from his car. “They left me a note in the car that said they believe in me and to go get the job done tonight. I made a few mistakes. We were able to battle back.

“This Kroger Continental team worked really, really hard in offseason, great pit stops, Hendrick engines. Glad a Chevy won.

“Man, this is unbelievable. This was the site of my last win back in 2017. We’ve worked really hard. We had a couple shots last year to get a win and fell short. It was a tough season, but, man, we got it done. Daytona 500!”

It was a remarkable victory and a perfect highlight for the 75th anniversary of NASCAR racing. Stenhouse is the first driver from a single-car team to win the Great American Race since Trevor Bayne shocked the racing world with Wood Brothers Racing in 2011.

The win was Stenhouse’s third in the Cup Series and first since he took the checkered flag in the Daytona summer race in 2017, snapping a streak of 199 races without a victory. JTG Daugherty hadn’t found Victory Lane since Allmendinger triumphed at Watkins Glen in 2014, a drought of 266 races.

With a push from Kyle Larson after the second overtime restart, Logano held the lead with one lap left.

“Second is the worst, man,” Logano lamented. “You’re so close. Leading the white flag lap there, I was up front. Kyle gave me a good push and, yeah, you’re watching in the mirror, and you’re three-wide across there. I felt like the three-wide was going a hurt a lane; looked like Kyle was getting pushed ahead, and then Ricky started getting pushed ahead.

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“I knew if I went to the bottom my car didn’t handle good enough. I already got pushed off the bottom once and I thought, if I go down there, I’m probably going to get wrecked, and I don’t know if I can get down there in time to throw the block (on Stenhouse) and so I didn’t want to wreck my car either.”

At 212 laps (530 miles), this Daytona 500 was three laps and 7.5 miles longer than the 2020 race, which held the previous record.

Chris Buescher finished fourth after leading 32 laps, second most to Keselowski’s 42. Pole winner Alex Bowman was fifth, followed by Allmendinger, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain and race rookie Riley Herbst.

Blaney made a remarkable recovery after sustaining serious damage in the first wreck of the afternoon.

Until then, the calm of the first 295 miles of racing gave no indication of the chaos to come.

The race ran without incident until Lap 118 when contact from Kevin Harvick’s Ford turned Tyler Reddick’s Toyota sideways in Turn 4. After bouncing off the outside wall, Reddick’s crippled No. 45 Camry came to rest at the entrance to pit road and was towed to the garage.

The No. 43 Chevrolet of Erik Jones and the No. 9 Camaro of 2020 series champion Chase Elliott also sustained terminal damage in what became a nine-car incident.

Blaney lost a lap on pit road under repair, while others involved-Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Martin Truex Jr.-remained on the lead lap.

“It looked like some guys got tangled up, up front,” Elliott said. “Those of us in the back were just scattering to kind of miss it. It looked like the No. 5 (Larson) and the No. 43 (Jones) kind of went to the apron.

“By the time we got slowed up, they were coming back across the track, and I was the lucky winner to get there first. It’s a bummer-long ways to go. Hate to end the day, but it is what it is.”

Note: Post-race inspection in the NASCAR Cup Series garage is complete with no issues. The Nos. 17 and 48 will be taken back to the NASCAR R&D center for further inspection.

Contributing: Staff reports.