DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drove around David Ragan after an overtime restart and then held off the field to win Saturday’s caution-filled Coke-Zero 400 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

It’s the second-straight restrictor plate victory for Stenhouse and second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the year and of his career for the driver from Olive Branch, Miss.  It certainly didn’t come easy.

Stenhouse had to avoid 14 caution periods during Saturday’s race, including three big wrecks that involved at least eight cars each.

With less than 30 laps left in the race Stenhouse began to emerge as a threat to win the race. He was at the front of the pack, battling Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Kasey Kahne for the race lead. Soon he was kicked out of the draft and found himself mid-pack as the front eight drivers led by Kahne got single file on the top.

Not to be outdone, Stenhouse got the bottom line organized and led a charge through the field.  With 13 laps left Stenhouse had muscled his way back up into the top-three and one lap later he moved back into the race lead, taking the top spot away from Kahne.

The driver that helped push Stenhouse back to the front, Ty Dillon, was also in the mix. With 10 laps left Dillon dove to the inside of Stenhouse before entering turn one and emerged with the race lead by the time the field got to the backstretch.

Dillon remained in the race lead as the fight for position continued behind him. Kyle Larson, who had battled back twice from being a lap down, found himself right in the the mix along with Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger at the front of the field.

Larson’s luck ran out with seven laps left. Coming through the tri-oval Larson tried to move up the track to give room to another car and clipped Stenhouse. The contact briefly sent Larson’s car into the air before the No. 42 came back down directly in front of Blaney’s Ford. The resulting crash took out eight cars, including the No. 41 of Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch.

NASCAR called for the red flag to clean up the resulting mess. Dillon was the race leader, followed by Ragan, Allmendinger, Stenhouse and Clint Bowyer.

The race resumed after the red flag with four laps left and Ragan, a two-time restrictor plate race winner, used a push from Stenhouse to take the lead on the bottom from Dillon. As Ragan led the field down the backstretch the caution flag waved again, this time for spins by Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin down the backstretch.

Stenhouse
The field battles for position early during Saturday’s Coke-Zero 400. (NASCAR Photo)

That set up an overtime restart with Ragan leading Dillon, Stenhouse, Allmendinger and Michael McDowell. Paul Menard was sixth, with Jamie McMurray, Bowyer, Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman next in the running order.

Ragan and Dillon launched off the line side-by-side, but it was Ragan who emerged with the race lead coming out of turn two and down the backstretch. Ragan tried to block both lanes of traffic, but Stenhouse took advantage and got to the inside of Ragan to take the lead in turn three.

Stenhouse held the lead at the white flag as McDowell maneuvered his way into second. Two cars spun out of the pack just prior to turn two, but neither car hit anything and both continued on, so the race stayed green.

Down the backstretch McDowell got shuffled out of second, with Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer falling in line behind Stenhouse. Neither driver could get close enough to Stenhouse to challenge him as the former XFINITY Series champion held serve to score his first victory at Daytona.

“It’s tough out there. I left the bottom open for the 13 (Ty Dillon) and I thought I gave the race away there,” said Stenhouse, referencing when he lost the lead with nine laps left. “I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one. They built a Fifth Third Ford that was really fast. We won the Firecracker 400, man, that’s awesome.

“This validates what we did at Talladega,” said Stenhouse. “We’ve been working really, really hard at Roush Fenway and this keeps pushing us further and further along.

“I had a Fourth of July party planned. It just got a little bigger.”

Bowyer beat Menard in a photo finish to take second at the finish line. McDowell finished fourth, a career-best for the 32-year-old driver. Ryan Newman completed the top-five.

Ragan ended up sixth after leading the field during the final restart. Brendan Gaughan gave the underdog Beard Motorsports team a top-10 finish in seventh, followed by Allmendinger, Jones and Buescher.

Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth won the first and second stages, respectively, but were both taken out in crashes later in the race and were non-factors in the finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started from the pole in what was likely his last race at Daytona Int’l Speedway, raced his way back from two laps down only to get collected in a crash on lap 105 when Kevin Harvick blew a tire directly in front of him coming out of turn two.

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