DAYTONA BEACH — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was running low on fuel and time but found just enough resolve in the tank to win the longest Daytona 500 in history.
Stenhouse didn’t even have enough gas to perform a burnout Sunday evening on the storied speedway. He found other ways to celebrate a career-defining win.
The 35-year-old climbed from his No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro, pounded the roof with his fists and raised his arms in triumph. Stenhouse’s pit crew then served as a mosh pit, catching their driver as he jumped off the roof following his first win since his 2017 victory in the summer race at Daytona International Speedway.
Following an on-track interview, Stenhouse climbed the chain-link fence a la Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, who called the race from the booth with FOX.
“This is unbelievable,” Stenhouse said. “This was the site of my last win. We’ve worked really hard. We had a couple shots last year and fell short. It was a tough season, but man, we got it done … Daytona 500.”
Driving in his fourth season with JTG Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse pilots the only car for a team owned by a former North Carolina Tar Heel basketball star. While Michael Jordan’s 23XI team co-owned with Denny Hamlin garners the headlines, Brad Daugherty now has a victory in the race that his childhood idol Richard Petty captured seven times.
Stenhouse outlasted 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano during a race requiring two overtime periods and a record 212 laps to complete, besting the 209 laps in 2020 during Hamlin’s third Daytona 500 win. A caution came out on the final lap with Stenhouse, Logano and third-place finisher Christopher Bell ahead and clear of yet another multi-car pile-up.
“Second is the worst,” Logano said. “There’s nothing like winning the Daytona 500. That’s why it stings so much finishing second.”
Chris Buescher finished fourth and Alex Bowman fifth, the highest finish by a pole-sitter since 2001.
Stenhouse could not believe he finished.
“The fuel light was going crazy,” he said.
Yet a driver with a knack for superspeedway racing kept his cool.
Stenhouse’s other win came in 2017 at Talladega Superspeedway. He also won the pole for the 2020 Daytona 500.
His comfort level was clear as the sport’s biggest race inevitably turned chaotic at the end.
Stenhouse made his winning move before a wreck during the initial overtime. He was on the tail of Logano’s No. 22 Ford Mustang on the backstretch and passed him before Austin Dillon lost control of his car to trigger a massive wreck and a caution.
“We had a huge run,” Stenhouse said. “I was hoping we were going to get to the white [flag] there, and we didn’t, so I knew I was going to take the top [lane]. I was hoping the 22 was going to follow, and he did. He was able to push us out.”
Logano’s assist at the restart ultimately proved enough for Stenhouse to prevail.
Until Stenhouse seized control, the race shaped up to be the end of futility for two future Hall of Famers lacking a Daytona 500 from their resumés.
Brad Keselowski led a race-high 42 laps and was in the mix until late in the race. The 35-time winner has won six times at Talladega and a summer race at Daytona but is 0-of-14 during the Great American Race.
Keselowki and Buescher, teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, appeared in command, but with four laps to go Kyle Busch passed on the outside with Dillon pushing form behind. On the 25th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s elusive Daytona 500 win, Busch appeared poised to finally fill the one hole in the resumé of one of the most talented and winningest drivers of his generation.
Instead, a caution came out with two laps remaining after a single-car Daniel Suarez crash.
Busch could have coasted to a win under caution at the time of Earnhardt’s 1998 win. A two-lap overtime rule implemented in 2016 changed the game.
Rather than coast to a win, Busch quickly lost position as Logano jetted by with a handful of cars, including Stenhouse.
“I hope y’all had fun,” Stenhouse said. “That was a heck of a race.”
At one time, Stenhouse appeared on his way to stardom.
He won back-to-back Xfinity Series titles with Roush in 2011 and 2012 and reached the Cup Series in 2013 later to replace Matt Kenseth with esteemed Joe Gibbs Racing.
Instead, Stenhouse struggled and had just three top-20 finishes in the points standings in 10 full seasons. Casual fans know him best for dating Danica Patrick.
But on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, Stenhouse, now happily married, had a date with destiny.
“It’s the Daytona 500,” he said. “You’re going to have good parts and bad parts, but we kept pushing through to the end.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.