By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
TALLADEGA, Alabama – Over the past year, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has been a force to be reckoned with on the restrictor plate tracks, with his two wins from last season coming at the races that employ the horsepower sapping device.
A year after breaking through for his first career win at Talladega, Stenhouse had the win in Sunday’s GEICO 500 in his grasp, but ran out of time to make it happen, bringing home a top-five finish instead.
“It was a lot of fun out there today,” said Stenhouse. “I made a few mistakes on pit road and we caught some good cautions to keep us on the lead lap. I thought the racing was good.
“The cars were super tough to drive. They were sliding around everywhere which was fun. I think that made for a good race throughout the runs and the stages and the different strategies that we had. All in all it was a fun weekend and I had fun on the boulevard with all the fans. I appreciate all of them coming out. I really wanted to win on Dale Sr.’s birthday. That would have been really cool.”
After starting seventh, the Roush-Fenway Racing driver held steady in the top-10 throughout the first stage, finding himself in eighth place after the green-checkered flag waved over the first 55-lap segment.
Stage two was a bit more challenging as Stenhouse was nailed for speeding while entering pit road on lap 67, forcing him to have to serve a pass-through penalty and dropping him a lap down. Despite the setback, he was able to avoid the first multi-car crash of the day on lap 73, getting his lap back in the process and finishing the second stage in fifth place.
As a result of pit strategy in the early portions of the final stage, Stenhouse made his way to the lead for four laps, but quickly fell by the wayside after getting eclipsed by the cars with fresher tires behind him.
However, despite his strength in the first half of the race and early in the final stage, he nearly threw it all away with a second pit road speeding penalty at lap 144 while the field was attempting green flag pit stops. As a result, he would have to serve another pass-through penalty under green, dropping him a lap down once more.
In a case of déjà vu, Stenhouse was lucky to once again catch a quick caution and then set his sights on climbing back through the field.
Over the closing laps, he was able to move his Ford closer and closer to the lead, just waiting for the right time to make his move and try to score a second straight Talladega spring race win. Though he appeared to be one of the cars to beat as the checkered flag grew nearer, time just ran out for Stenhouse and Roush-Fenway to end the day in victory lane.