BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rode a roller-coaster of circumstances over two days at Bristol Motor Speedway to a fourth-place finish at the end of the Food City 500 on Monday.
And though Stenhouse finished exactly where he started, the journey was long and eventful for the Roush Fenway Racing driver – weathering a race that took two days to complete due to persistent rain.
“We fought track position, gaining it and losing it back-and-forth over the last two days, but all in all had a really strong run with our Sunny D Ford,” Stenhouse said. “We had a good Friday, a good Saturday and a good race on Sunday and Monday.
“I’m glad we were able to get it all in and we appreciate the fans for sticking around. That was a fun race. I love the race track. It was nice being able to run the bottom at times and then run the top on the long runs. It made for some good racing.”
Stenhouse rolled off fourth at the start of the 500-lap race on Sunday afternoon, worked his way up to second before spinning on the 61st circuit and then rallied back through the field after the spin to crack the top-10 again, only to fall victim to an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop at lap 130, falling to the tail of the field as a result of the penalty.
He found himself running fifth at the third weather stoppage of the race on lap 204, which postponed the remaining distance to Monday afternoon, and Stenhouse remained inside the top seven once green flag conditions resumed again.
Stenhouse finished the second stage in sixth, then lost a lap for damage repairs after several cars checked up in front of him during a mid-race restart, but rallied back to get the free pass at lap 325 when then-leader Kyle Larson spun out on the frontstretch, putting Stenhouse back on the lead lap.
Pitting for tires during the final weather-related caution of the race with 111 laps to go, Stenhouse came through the field like a bullet after restarting 14th. He re-entered the top five with 86 circuits remaining and finally tracked down Jimmie Johnson for third with 45 to go.
Eleven laps later, Stenhouse was past Kyle Busch for the runner-up spot and running lap times faster than Larson’s leading car as he ate into a five-second deficit.
Then the caution came out with 31 laps left for Brad Keselowski’s stricken Ford and Stenhouse’s run faltered, if only for a moment.
Stenhouse dropped from second to fourth on the final round of pit stops, but was able to restart on the outside lane behind Larson for a 22-lap sprint to the finish. When the green flag flew, his No. 17 SunnyD Ford took off like a rocket and Stenhouse quickly climbed into second, giving chase to Larson once again.
Though Stenhouse gave two shots to Larson’s back bumper in an effort to move him for the lead, Larson hung on and Stenhouse eventually faded back into the clutches of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson in the closing stages.