Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Avoids the Big One, Makes Big Last-Lap Pass At Talladega

Who’s in the headline

Restrictor plate racetracks are always the great equalizer. This weekend, Talladega Superspeedway’s parity roulette wheel landed on the name Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It wasn’t a shock Stenhouse was able to make it to Victory Lane Sunday, in large part because he had the fastest car in qualifying by a substantial amount. But it still requires a driver to have the car in the right place at the right time in order to make it up front. That’s what Stenhouse did during a thrilling overtime finish, earning the driver his first Cup victory and the first for Roush Fenway Racing in nearly three years.

What happened

The vast majority of the race was uneventful, with only three, single-car cautions during the first 161 laps. There were 26 lead changes among 14 drivers with Kyle Busch leading the most laps at 48. Stenhouse, after starting on the pole led the first 13 laps of the race but actually didn’t lead again until the final circuit. In fact, he went through a rough spot, having to fix front end damage after tapping Ryan Blaney to cause one of the single-car yellows with 27 laps remaining.

It was after that wreck and ensuing restart that the “Big One” finally happened. On Lap 169, AJ Allmendinger got into the left rear of Chase Elliott coming off the exit of Turn 2. When Elliott spun in front of the field, from second place, no less than 16 cars were involved in the red-flag incident. Nearly a dozen cars failed to finish from that crash altogether.

Once the red flag was lifted, two more cautions culminated in the overtime finish that saw Stenhouse make a move on the Alabama Gang Superstretch. That put him next to Busch on the final restart, a position that ultimately afforded him the chance at victory. Stenhouse was able to make the pass on the final lap, hold off a late challenge by Jamie McMurray and put the No. 17 Ford in Victory Lane.

GABLE: Stenhouse Forges His Own Path To Victory

Why you should care

The racing was intense at Talladega and never ended up single file. The pack racing that focus groups claim is what the fans want was evident all day long. In the end, it resulted in a first-time winner and one more step towards 17 different winners, which would result in a race winner not making the playoffs. It is a long time until Richmond to see if we end up with that scenario… but so far, it looks like there’s a chance.

What your friends are talking about

Joey Logano is still in the record books as the winner of the race last weekend at Richmond, but that win will not secure a post-season playoff berth. In the post-race teardown at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, N.C., a 1/32nd -inch gap was discovered between the pinion angle shim and a truck arm on Logano’s car. That gap violates the rule which states the contact surface of the shim must always be in complete contact with the truck arm.

As a result, Logano lost 25 points and his win is considered encumbered. That means it will not count toward playoff eligibility and there will be no playoff points credited. Roger Penske loses 25 owner points while Todd Gordon is suspended for two races and fined $50,000. Penske has already decided not to appeal. Add in their final appeal of a penalty tomorrow for Brad Keselowski and that’s two potential major violations this season for the two-car program.

It has been 30 years since Bill Elliott turned the fastest qualifying lap in the history of NASCAR, going over 212 mph at Talladega in 1987. That same year, Bobby Allison nearly flew into the stands and restrictor plates followed, forever changing the face of racing at Daytona and Talladega. They were supposed to be a temporary fix until a better solution was discovered. In 2017, we are still waiting for those answers to come.

Stenhouse made a very generous donation to Driven 2 Save Lives after winning the pole on Saturday. He gave his award to the charity that honors Bryan Clauson by promoting organ and tissue donation. Clauson has helped multiple people through his organ donation decision. The fallen driver was also not far from Stenhouse’s mind Sunday; one of the first people mentioned in Victory Lane was Clauson.

Carl Long is going to attempt to field a Cup car at Kansas Speedway next weekend, pending sponsorship. Long has been banned from the Cup garage since he purchased a worn out engine to try and race into the sport’s All-Star Race through the Open in 2009. The engine was so worn out that its cylinders were oversized, leading to one of the biggest penalties in NASCAR history. An underfunded Long could not afford the $200,000 fine, an anchor which has kept him out of the Cup Series ever since. However, a NASCAR spokesperson confirms that Long has met conditions which now return him to the Cup garage. The car he will attempt to field is an old HScott Motorsports Chevrolet.

Who is mad

Chase Elliott was in contention for victory at Talladega until an ill-timed bump from AJ Allmendinger sent him upside down. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Elliott was in the mix for the win as the laps were winding down to the final 20. Allmendinger got a run off of Turn 2, got a bit antsy and ended up making contact that turned Elliott and triggered the huge crash on the backstretch. Elliott continues to search for that elusive first win and will have to wait at least another week to make it happen.

Brad Keselowski is one of the drivers locked into the playoffs provided he runs the remainder of regular season races. He was strong all day, looking like he would be a part of the story when the checkered flag flew but it wasn’t to be for Team Penske. A win didn’t materialize because he was caught up in the huge wreck on Lap 169 of 191; teammate Logano was outright eliminated. It was a bummer for an organization that’s won four out of the last six at Talladega.

Who is happy

Jamie McMurray has won four races on plate tracks, including the Daytona 500. His Chip Ganassi Racing team has been strong all season and teammate Kyle Larson already scored a win this year. That made Sunday not too surprising as McMurray made some bold moves, as he often does on plate tracks, and wound up second by inches at the finish line. It’s a kind of run can give him confidence to break through and visit the Winner’s Circle again in the near future.

What a weekend for underdog Aric Almirola. He has one career Cup triumph, and it came at Daytona in a plate race. He kicked off his weekend with a trophy from the XFINITY Series and ended up in the top five Sunday with a fourth-place run. Almirola didn’t respond as many might have thought he would post-race, actually disappointed he didn’t have a little more time to try and grab the win. What a promising sign for a Richard Petty Motorsports outfit that was struggling through the worst season of its existence just one year ago.

CATANZARETI: Almirola Win Means Another Near-Miss For Elliott Sadler

When the checkered flag flew

  • For the first time in his career, in his 158th start, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored his first win Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Stenhouse is the 187th different driver to win a Cup race. He is tied for 126th on the all-time win list with 60 other drivers.
  • Jamie McMurray’s runner-up finish is his first top-two run of the season. This was the 12th time in his career that McMurray ended a race as the first loser.
  • McMurray has four career top-two finishes at Talladega.
  • McMurray is tied for 57th on the all-time second-place finish list with Davey Allison and Neil Bonnett.
  • The final spot on the podium at Talladega went to Kyle Busch. It was Busch’s fifth career top-three run at Talladega.
  • Busch has come home on the podium three times in 2017. He is tied for 101st on the all-time podium list with Bill Elliott and Bobby Isaac.
  • Ty Dillon came home 12th to garner Rookie of the Race.

Ten races into the season, there have been eight different winners. With 16 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are 10 new winners, someone with a victory will not make the playoffs. For now, you have Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson with two victories while Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Stenhouse have one. Of the eight winners, Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.

Here are the remaining nine drivers in points and their position.

  1. Chase Elliott
  2. Jamie McMurray
  3. Joey Logano
  1. Kevin Harvick
  1. Clint Bowyer
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Denny Hamlin
  1. Ryan Blaney
  1. Trevor Bayne

Here are the drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total.

Brad Keselowski -12

Martin Truex Jr. – 10

Jimmie Johnson – 10

Kyle Larson – 7

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Kevin Harvick – 3

Chase Elliott – 2

Ryan Blaney – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Kyle Busch – 1

Matt Kenseth – 1

Denny Hamlin – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers, where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

Sunday was another race at Talladega. The current aero package makes drivers very dependent on help to make passes for the lead. There is extensive racing in a pack but, in the end, limited movement until the end of segments. The final result was a less-than-exciting race, one that at least gave us a first-time winner. It garners three cold Naked Pig Pale Ales from Back Forty Beer Company.

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Where do you point your DVR for next week

The series heads to the Heartland next weekend as Kansas Speedway will host the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The race will air Saturday night, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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“Who is mad”…why single out Clyde? A couple of drivers “were in the mix” for the win. Damn AJ, that seemed like a rookie move. AJ know’s better than that..imo.


he could sniff the win…that’ll do that i guess. Such a rookie move tho, couldn’t agree more.


I agree as well, and I like A.J., this was disappointing behavior.

Bill B

Not a bad race for an RP track. For a while it looked like there wasn’t going to be a “big one” but the odds played out. Good to see the stands were filled up.

One thing I have enjoyed about not having a specific driver that I cheer for, I can actually relax while I watch a RP race. I was glad to see Ricky win. He’s been out there slugging it out with the back markers for 4 years and this is the first year where it looks like both he and RFR may have turned the corner. I was never a Roush fan but it is good to see them back in the mix. At least one of the rookies from the class of 2013 has shown improvement and maybe proof that he belongs in the series.

Of all the cars I’ve seen that have ended upside down at Daytona and Talladega, AJ’s roll was the most gentle. The car just seemed to slowly roll over. I’m guessing it didn’t seem so gentle to him.

Carl D.

Quote of the race: “Talladega… World’s fastest junkyard.” – Chris Meyer.


Yep, I thought that too!


How many times did they show the shot of Elliott sliding along the wall? Just another example of screaming tires (without the busting glass) that makes the highlight reel for years. Every commercial shows wrecks and not the close finishes. Brian gets what he wants.

What happened to Johnson? I guess he didn’t want the car inspected too closely.


As an afterthought, did anyone else look in awe at the skid marks as the pace car lead the field down the backstretch?


I liked your “Last Kiss” reference!


This was a fun race! Quit being a bunch of negative grumpy bastards!

Bill B

Please be specific.
I have re-read all the comments up to this point and none of them seem that negative or grumpy. They all seem like fair observations to me and not overly critical.


Race was ok, finish was somewhat exciting, too bad there was the big one at lap 21. Nascar started sending me emails lately out of the blue … yesterday’s email was to remind me that the race was on FOX and starting at 2 pm ET.

The email had an artist’s rendition of the track showing 3 cars in a crash: Harvick, a green colored car from the back-end and A.J. Allmendinger plowing into the crash … maybe a bad omen for AJ like the jinx for athletes/teams being on the cover of Sports Illustrated?


Mow princess sparkle pony can say she’s been to victory lane in the cup series!

Lets see a family oriented sport had hooters girl and monster girls there. You’ve come a long way na$car.

Kevin in SoCal

There’s always been showgirls in Victory Lane since NASCAR started.


I know, but I also remember the stink that was raised when liquor companies were possibly sponsoring teams.


I guess it didn’t take long for an idiotic comment like this. Surprised it didn’t come sooner to be honest. Can’t just let her celebrate her boyfriends win in Victory Lane like all the other wives and girlfriends do.


Yes, agreed, Steve. Back off of Danica; she was there to congratulate and support Ricky. And, while you are at it Janice, why don’t you get in a Cup car and see how you stack up against Danica.


My money’s on Janice


I attended the 1987 Winston 500 30 years ago, it was my first visit to Talladega and I got to see Davey win his first Cup race. A buddy and I made a last minute decision Saturday afternoon to drive to Talladega on Sunday and see the race. So, Stenhouse picks up his first Cup win with me in attendance. Wonder who will get their first Cup win in 2047 when I celebrate the 60th anniversary of my first Talladega trip? It was a nice day at the track, decent race, not a lot of cautions as I’d feared, could have done without the big one, would have loved to seen it all shake out with everyone still in contention.


Thought it a little odd that Landon Cassill could limp his car most of the way around the sport’s biggest track and then couldn’t go about 5 more feet at an opening at the moment a retiring driver needed a caution to get back on the lead lap.


There was a guy right there who could have pushed the car behind the wall. I guess the safety-minded toadies in the tower didn’t want to endanger his life.

I guess the 34 can be added to the list with 23, 32 and 55.


The race was a surprize at the end. Then again, maybe not. Stenhouse lead qualifying, both round one and round two. What a pleasure to see Junior Nation cheering when Junior got the pole, only to all have to be put on suicide watch after Stenhouse knocked him off it! The end of the race was absolutely priceless with Stenhouse getting by the crybaby! The camera showed Samantha, and she looked like she was ready to cry. Boo-hoo! Then there was the gutsy move by McMurray, splitting Johnson and Crybaby-Kyle. Johnson lost so much momentum, he went all the way back to eighth place. It reminded me of another time when Johnson and somebody named Gordon were racing side-by-side at Texas, and Someone by the name of Keselowski did the same move! Only, then, Gordon whined and cried that Brad was a dirty racer for doing what he did. Yesterday, Gordon was a lot more cordial about McMurray’s move. Oh wait! I forgot! When Keselowski did it, he drove a Ford. McMurray drives a Chev, so all is good!

I like how people are calling the Roush organization weak, that one race is not a resurgence, it doesn’t count as it was a restrictor plate race, and even calling Ricky “Sticky”. You have not been paying attention! Stenhouse finished 10th at Martinsville, 9th at Bristol, and 4th at Phoenix and Richmond. He has only one DNF (Daytona), and has finished on the lead lap in eight of the ten races. He has been showing remarkable improvement this year, as has Trevor Bayne. Yesterday was no fluke! He won that race fair and square. He had the power. If that had of been junior, people would be singing praise and glory to the high heavens! And if Crybaby Kyle had of won, he would not have made the snide comment about being glad to go to a real race track next week. Talladega would have been the best track.

Last, and this was the reason I watched that race very closely yesterday, the pace car was only ever mentioned once! That was it! Except for the colour, that was a cool looking Mustang!

It’s great to see Roush back!


It appears this author doesn’t think too highly of Ricky’s win. If this were Johnson or Kyle this would have been a masterful performance. But since its Ricky, he lucked into it apparently. I have to wholeheartedly disagree. Ricky had a fast car and made all the right moves. He has run up front a lot this year up to this point, so I don’t think this win is a fluke by any means. Very deserving of his win. .

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