DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had had other shots at winning the Daytona 500 dissolve in late-race trouble, survived a series of crashes in the closing laps Sunday and won NASCAR’s biggest race for the first time.
Stenhouse, whose best previous finish in the 500 was seventh, was in front on the final lap in overtime when a multi-car wreck developed behind him, prompting a caution flag and writing finish to the race. After the field takes the white flag in a green-white-checkered finish and a caution flag flies, the leader at that moment is declared the winner.
After so many other fruitless tries, that leader was Stenhouse, the pride of Olive Branch, Miss.
Stenhouse, 35, put JTG-Daugherty Racing, one of NASCAR’s smallest teams, in 500 victory lane for the first time. The single-car Chevrolet team is owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickter and former National Basketball Association player Brad Daugherty. The team’s only previous Cup victory was scored by AJ Allmendinger on the Watkins Glen road course in 2014.
“The whole offseason Mike (crew chief Mike Kelley) preached how we all believe in each other,” Stenhouse told Fox Sports. “I made a few mistakes, but we were able to battle back. We had great pit stops, and we got it done — the Daytona 500.”
The victory was Stenhouse’s third in the Cup Series. The previous victories came in the 2017 season at Talladega Superspeedway and in Daytona’s summer race. He was driving then for team owner Jack Roush.
The elongated finish, one so similar to most recent Daytona 500s as a chain of accidents settled the issue, was set up when Daniel Suarez slid off the track with two laps to go, causing a caution and restacking the field.
Richard Childress Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon had drafted past leader Brad Keselowski and his teammate and drafting partner, Chris Buescher a lap earlier and were charging toward the finish when the caution slowed the field and led to overtime.
Busch and Dillon had the lead at the restart, but Busch and Dillon swept past them to move in front. Then Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson paired together to draft into the lead. Before the field could take the white flag, however, a multi-car crash developed behind the leaders, sending numerous drivers, including Harrison Burton and Jimmie Johnson, into spins.
That set up a second green-white-checkered attempt, with Stenhouse starting first, Larson second, Christopher Bell third and Joey Logano fourth. AJ Allmendinger was fifth and Busch sixth. Stenhouse burst to the front at the restart and held off a charging Logano. The final wreck, sparked when Aric Almirola, Travis Pastrana and Larson crashed in the wake of the leaders, locked up the win for Stenhouse.
A late-race sequence of pit stops — from laps 176 to 180 (of 200) — spread the field and led to a major multi-car accident with 19 laps remaining. As drivers tried to close gaps and return to single- and double-file racing after the round of pit stops, a crash damaged the cars of Ryan Preece, Martin Truex Jr., Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick.
The chaos of that crash left Harrison Burton in the race lead.
Kyle Busch, driving in his first regular season race for Richard Childress Racing, lost a lap near the halfway point of the race when he was flagged for speeding on pit road but rallied to be in the mix near the finish.
A Turn 4 accident on lap damaged the cars of Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick. The incident began when Kevin Harvick bumped Reddick in the outside lane, causing Reddick to lose control, slap the outside wall and come down the track into traffic.
The accident caused the first on-track caution of the race. Elliott, Jones and Reddick parked their cars. Several other cars received minor damage.
The string of accidents stretched the race to 530 miles, the longest 500 ever.
Stage 1 winner: Brad Keselowski
Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain
Who had a good race: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had the right car and the right set of nerves in the overtime and finally checked the 500 on his to-do list. … Harrison Burton led the race with 19 laps to go but fell back in the draft and became the victim of a multi-car crash near race’s end. … Kyle Busch raced for the win in his first ride with Richard Childress Racing.
Who had a bad race: Chase Elliott, still seeking his first Daytona 500 win, left the race after a lap 117 crash. Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones parked after the same incident. … Ryan Preece ran a strong race but was enveloped in the lap 181 crash.
Next: The Cup Series’ next race is scheduled Feb. 26 at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Read more about NASCAR
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins Daytona 500 in wreck-filled finish originally appeared on NBCSports.com