By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Five years, seven months, 18 days.
That’s how long it has been since Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. last tasted victory in the NASCAR Cup Series, but in Sunday’s Daytona 500, he broke his winless streak in the most epic fashion, surviving double overtime to win the 65th running of the Great American Race.
Always a threat on the superspeedways, Stenhouse has been in position late in the running in NASCAR’s biggest race a number of times only to fall by the wayside for one reason or another, but this time around, he took the bull by the horns and made it happen.
As the laps wound down in regulation, it was shaping up to be a battle between the RFK Racing Fords and the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets, with Stenhouse and his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet lurking in the back half of the top-10 just trying to make a run materialize.
It didn’t seem that chance would come for the Olive Branch, Mississippi native until Daniel Suarez spun with three laps to go, sending the race into overtime. Then it was go time.
Lining up as the third car on the outside lane for the first overtime restart, Stenhouse lined up with Joey Logano to shove the two clear of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. Once clear, a push from Kyle Larson allowed Stenhouse to make a move on Logano heading into Turn 3 to take the lead for himself.
Three dirt-car veterans in Stenhouse, Larson, and Christopher Bell ran 1-2-3 when a crash broke out behind them to bring out the yellow once more and set up another overtime restart.
Stenhouse would have Logano in his rear-view mirror for the restart on the outside lane, with Larson and Bell on the inside lane. Kyle Busch and A.J. Allmendinger also lurked behind them, so it was still anyone’s race.
The No. 47 Chevrolet held the top spot at the white flag, but the advantage he had gained on his challengers was dwindling quickly as Logano, Busch, and Bubba Wallace were coming with a head of steam through the tri-oval.
By the time they reached Turn 1, it was the defending Cup Series champion that was up front in his No. 22 Ford as the field set off on the final lap.
Using a push from Bell, Stenhouse was able to pull even with Logano before Larson was turned sideways in the pack behind them to bring out the yellow and end the race.
The scoring pylon shifted between Logano and Stenhouse as the leader a number of times before it was determined that Stenhouse was out front at the time of caution, declaring him the winner.
It was a moment of redemption for Stenhouse, returning to Victory Lane at Daytona for the first time since winning the summer race back in 2017, when he won his last two races.
The win also comes with crew chief Mike Kelley back at the helm as the two look to recreate the same magic that they used to win back-to-back Xfinity Series championships in 2011 and 2012.
Before the race, Kelley wrote a note to Stenhouse on a piece of duct tape and placed it inside the car where only his driver could read it. The note simply read “We Believe.”
As they say, the rest is history.
“I think this whole off-season Mike just preached how much we all believed in each other,” Stenhouse said. “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 off-season, 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.”