A victory in the GEICO 500 would have been the third for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a restrictor-plate track in the last four races. It also would have come on the birthday of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., who is perhaps the greatest restrictor-plate racer in NASCAR history.
Earnhardt was on Stenhouse’s mind Sunday afternoon.
“I really wanted to win on Dale Sr.’s birthday,” Stenhouse said. “That would have been really cool.”
The defending race winner Stenhouse finished fifth, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort.
Stenhouse had been logging laps running fourth when he finally got a run off Turn 2 with two laps to go. The momentum shot him to Kurt Busch’s back bumper, but only Busch benefited. Busch moved up in front of Stenhouse enough to stop Stenhouse’s energy and left the No. 17 in the clutches of the field.
“I wasn’t sure what to do there,” Stenhouse said. “I knew the 9 [Elliott] was going to try. To get by us and we’re all trying to get a win there. The 22 [Joey Logano] was in a great position. When we got two-wide behind him it didn’t slow him down much; we weren’t ever really gaining on him.”
Not as dominant as he was a year ago at Talladega, Stenhouse managed to stay in contention through two big wrecks and pit road issues. Twice he was busted for speeding on pit road (laps 67 and 144), putting him in the perilous position of being at the rear of the field and in danger of finding trouble.
Stenhouse led four laps on the day.
“It was a lot of fun out there today,” he said. “I made a few mistakes on pit road, and we caught some good cautions to keep us on the lead lap. I thought the racing was good. The cars were super tough to drive. They were sliding around everywhere which was fun.
“I think that made for a good race throughout the runs and stages and the different strategies that we had. All in all, it was a fun weekend, and I had fun on the boulevard with all the fans. I appreciate all of them coming out.”
Last year, Stenhouse scored his first career win at Talladega. Earnhardt won his 76th and final race at Talladega in 2000.