Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pulled off a stock-car racing magic trick at Talladega Superspeedway: He started first and finished first.
Avoiding the “Big One” and making a late pass on Kyle Busch on the last lap Sunday afternoon in the Geico 500, Stenhouse held off Busch to win for the first time this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
It was also Stenhouse’s first victory in 158 starts.
“We’ve been terrible for a long time,” he said. “This year every race we’re getting better.”
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“I never had enough help from behind,” Busch said of the final lap, trying to catch back up to the lead.
The Big One — a wild and wicked tradition in Talladega — happened with 19 laps to go.
Chase Elliott’s and AJ Allmendinger’s cars got the worst of it, with Elliott’s Chevy going sideways and scraping the inside wall and Allmendinger’s Chevy going airborne and landing upside down. Danica Patrick’s Ford also hit the inside wall.
No one was seriously hurt.
The initial contact came when Allmendinger tapped Elliott on the left rear of his car, triggering a crashfest that involved 16 cars.
“Once I got to Chase, I got loose. I tried to get off him but at the moment it was too late,” Allmendinger said. “It’s Talladega.”
“He got to my bumper and happened to be in a bad spot,” Elliott said.
A red flag came out, signifying an immediate stop to the race, which lasted just under 27 minutes.
“It kinda stinks but it is what it is,” said Joey Logano, whose car was also involved in the carnage.
Stenhouse started up front on the pole, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the outside.
“It'll be nice to lead the field to green here,” Stenhouse said before the start of the race. “The Fifth Third guys worked really, really hard on these cars. Like I said earlier, Jimmy Fennig has done a great job on these speedway cars. This is cool. Doug Yates builds awesome horsepower.
“With his dad, Robert, not doing as well as we would like, it would be cool to dedicate this one to him and all the hard work that the engine shop does. Man, it’s a cool way to start.”
Brad Keselowski won the first stage in what seemed to be a Ford rout. He beat fellow Ford driver Stenhouse to win the segment.
Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Trevor Bayne, Logano, Paul Menard, Patrick, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.
Stenhouse led 13 laps — the first time he’d led laps all season.
Denny Hamlin gave Toyota its first taste of the front of the field when he won the second stage. It was Hamlin’s first stage win of the season.
He was followed by Kevin Harvick, Blaney, Truex, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jones and Jamie McMurray.