By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
CONCORD, N.C. – A wild night at Charlotte Motor Speedway leaves Ricky Stenhouse Jr with a top-five finish.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver lined up inside the top-five on the final restart of the Coca-Cola 600. With five laps to go in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Stenhouse took advantage of the slower traffic of his teammate Ryan Newman and David Ragan.
Although Stenhouse gained two positions in the chaos from his fellow Ford Performance drivers, he slipped behind eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr and Joey Logano. In the final laps, he held off charges from Chris Buescher and Alex Bowman to finish fifth in his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang.
“I felt like we were really good early and backed up what we felt like we had in practice,” Stenhouse explained. “As the race went on, about lap 200, we were struggling with the balance and I felt like there was something wrong with our car. It just didn’t run down the straightaway.
“Once we got the car balanced a little better, I could run the corner a little better and our lap times got better. Once we did that, I felt good with it, that we had a top three, maybe top two car on the long run. We were matching lap times with the 19 (Truex), but we still got some work to do.”
With 13 laps to go in the first stage, Stenhouse spun off the nose of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Red, White, & Blue Toyota Camry. His Mustang slid into the infield. In past years, it likely would have ended the 31-year-old’s day. Luckily for Stenhouse, the AstroTurf prevented any damage to his machine.
Despite the spin, Stenhouse remained on the lead lap. He didn’t move back into the top-10 until the third stage of the race where he finished the stage in seventh.
The fifth-place finish is the first for Stenhouse on an intermediate track, and his first in the 2019 season. It is also just the 15th top-five finish in his career.
Stenhouse moves up from 21st in the championship standings to 19th. He is 220-points behind both Busch and Logano. Stenhouse is just 10-points behind the cutoff currently held by Kyle Larson on a tie-breaker.
“Really happy to get up there and contend with that caliber of cars at two mile and a half races in a row at Kansas and here,” Stenhouse admitted. “We have got to make sure we keep this momentum going and try to carry that through the summer.”