Thursday, November 23, 2017

Coke Zero 400 victory adds steam to Ricky Stenhouse's run


DAYTONA BEACH — When Ricky Stenhouse first entered the NASCAR Cup series, his reputation wasn't great, especially at bunched-up restrictor-plate tracks. He had only a pair of top-10 finishes in his first 10 trips to Daytona International Speedway.

"He was a little bit chaotic," veteran driver Clint Bowyer said, "but he's not now."

Not after what he did in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400. He led four times for 17 laps, including the final two to earn his first victory at the famed 2½-mile tri-oval.

The win was impressive enough on its own, given how he had to withstand a race-record 14 cautions and an especially squirrely field. He powered past David Ragan (the race's 2011 winner) on the inside after the final restart to pull away to the finish line.

But it was even stronger considering the eight-race stretch Stenhouse has put together in his No. 17 Ford. He went 157 Cup races without a win. Now he has two in two months, after winning from the pole at Talladega in May in the series' previous restrictor race.

"This just keeps pushing us farther and farther along," said Stenhouse, 29,.

It also puts him in rare company in what has become a hard-to-predict season.

Stenhouse joins the top two drivers in the standings (Kyle Larson and Martin Truex) and two former champions (Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski) as the only racers with multiple wins this season.

"Let's be clear," said Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark. "Ricky's a hell of a plate racer, and he showed that (Saturday)."

Stenhouse still has plenty to learn. Midway through the season, he's 16th in points. He hasn't yet won a stage, and he doesn't feel competitive at intermediate tracks.

But Saturday was a glimpse of what Stenhouse and his team are capable of doing.

TAMPA BAY TIE: The win was also special for Stenhouse's crew chief, Zephyrhills' Brian Pattie.

Some of his family was there, and some friends from Tampa made the trip to watch him earn his first Cup win as a crew chief at his home track.

"It's been a cool experience," Pattie said.

RUNNERUP: Bowyer is admittedly feeling a little pressure after taking over Tony Stewart's No. 14 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing. His most recent Cup victory came in 2012, and he is still trying to take his new team into the winner's circle. But Bowyer took some solace in back-to-back runnerup finishes. "Second (stinks), but it's better than third," Bowyer said. "We finished second two weeks in a row, so that's a huge confidence booster for our team, but nonetheless, the pressure cooker is turning up."

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Quote of the night

"I'm hot. I want a cold beer. Are we done?"

Clint Bowyer, trying to end an interview session after a warm evening

By the numbers

12 Top-10 finishes by Bowyer in 24 races at Daytona.

51 Caution laps (out of 163 total) in Saturday's Coke Zero 400.

5 Crashes by Danica Patrick in 11 NASCAR Cup races at Daytona.

1 Career top-five finish for Michael McDowell after placing fourth Saturday.

9 Finish for Erik Jones, tops among rookies.

0 Wins this season by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will probably need to get one along the way to qualify for the playoffs.


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