Thursday, November 23, 2017
Sports

Ricky Stenhouse wins Coke Zero 400 after 14 cautions at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH— It took 158 races for Ricky Stenhouse to get his first NASCAR Cup Series win.

It took less than two months for him to get his second.

Stenhouse withstood a race-record 14 cautions with a second-to-last lap pass of David Ragan to win Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. It was his second victory in eight races after winning at Talladega in May and gave him back-to-back wins at restrictor-plate tracks.

"It validates what we did at Talladega…" Stenhouse said.

His driving certainly did, given the wreck-filled chaos that knocked out some of the series' top drivers.

In what is expected to be his final race at the famed 2 1/2 –mile tri-oval, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall twice. The first scrape sent him two laps down, but he climbed all the way up to seventh (thanks to two free passes). But Kevin Harvick got loose in front of him on lap 106, dashing Earnhardt's hopes of an 18th win at Daytona and denting his hopes of making the playoffs in his final season as a full-time Cup driver.

"As soon as we got our lap back, I knew anything was possible…" Earnhardt said. "Just really had nowhere to go."

Rising star Chase Elliott and former Daytona 500 champions Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne and Kurt Busch were among the other drivers caught up in wrecks on a warm evening that left cars with little grip.

"Tonight we just survived," runnerup Clint Bowyer said.

Six different drivers led in the final 26 laps: Stenhouse, Ragan, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Kasey Kahne and Ty Dillon.

But the back-and-forth passing stalled when Stenhouse hit points leader Kyle Larson with seven laps left. Larson briefly went airborne, narrowly missing Bowyer and bringing out a red flag.

"I just squeezed Ricky and wrecked myself," Larson said.

The wrecks weren't done. After a restart with three to go, Erik Jones got loose in an incident that also collected Denny Hamlin and set up overtime.

On the first and only overtime restart, Ragan looked like the favorite to win the event for the second time in his career. But Ragan couldn't hold off Stenhouse, whose No. 17 Ford powered by him on the inside.

"I zigged when I should have zagged," said Ragan, who finished sixth.

And Stenhouse capitalized to become the fifth driver in the series with multiple wins this season.

Firecracker 250: William Byron won the Xfinity Series' Firecracker 250 Saturday, beating teammate Elliott Sadler in a controversial overtime finish. Scott Lagasse nudged Garrett Smithley into the wall farther back in the pack with two laps left. Smithley slid across the backstretch as part of the five-car crash that brought out a caution flag...eventually.

Replays showed that the crash clearly happened before the overtime line, but the yellow didn't appear until after Byron crossed the line to win his second Xfinity race in a row. If officials had called for caution a moment sooner, the drivers would have attempted another restart.

Sadler said he wasn't disappointed that he didn't get an extra chance to battle for the win.

"I'm not going to nickel and dime them to death on when they threw it and why they threw it," Sadler said. "I say safety first, because my butt's in the seat."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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