BRISTOL, Tenn. – Nobody passed more cars than Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who capped off his best performance of the season with a fourth-place finish to lead Ford in the rain-delayed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Monday afternoon.
Stenhouse led a parade of five Fords in the Top 10, but didn’t have quite enough on the final restart to register his first win of the season. He found himself with a chance at victory in large part because of a pit call crew chief Brian Pattie made when rain brought out the caution with 111 laps to go. Stenhouse, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano all came down pit road and had fresher tires than the other leaders, who stayed out.
That strategy appeared to be paying off as Stenhouse methodically worked his way to the front. He restarted 13th with 101 laps remaining, but found himself all the way up to second with 33 circuits to go. Leader Kyle Larson had a rearview mirror full of the No. 17 Sunny D Fusion, but when Brad Keselowski hit the wall after a tire went flat with 31 laps to go it brought out the caution.
Everyone pitted for four tires and while Stenhouse got inside leader Larson a couple times, he was never able to compete the pass and ultimately didn’t have the speed on the short run and ended up fourth. Harvick and Logano made the same strategy work for them as they finished seventh and ninth, respectively.
Another solid day for Stewart-Haas Racing was capped by Top 10 finishes for Aric Almirola (6th) and Clint Bowyer (8th). David Ragan ran 12th for Front Row Motorsports while Paul Menard was one spot behind for the Wood Brothers.
It was a disappointing end for Keselowski, who won the first two stages, but began to fade on old tires. He went from sixth on the restart with 101 to go to being one lap down less than 40 laps later. The flat tire ultimately led to a 23rd-place finish.
The race was split over two days as rain halted the event on Sunday after 204 laps. Ryan Blaney had a strong Fusion as he led two times for 100 laps, but was collected in an accident while leading on lap 118 and finished 35th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series resumes Saturday night at Richmond Raceway for the first night race of the season. Green flag is set for 6:30 p.m.
MONSTER ENERGY CUP RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st - Kyle Busch
2nd - Kyle Larson
3rd - Jimmie Johnson
4th - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
5th - Alex Bowman
6th - Aric Almirola
7th - Kevin Harvick
8th - Clint Bowyer
9th - Joey Logano
10th - Ryan Newman
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
12th - David Ragan
13th - Paul Menard
21st - Matt DiBenedetto
22nd - Kurt Busch
23rd - Brad Keselowski
24th - Trevor Bayne
35th - Ryan Blaney
38th - Michael McDowell
POST RACE QUOTES
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Fusion -- Retired on lap 10 after accident
“It’s just unfortunate. There are no excuses. I was just racing the 19 and got loose underneath him. There’s not a lot of grip. It rained all day and that VHT just doesn’t do well without heat. I was stuck on the bottom and that was about it. I really hate it for my guys. We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford and just to be out this early is really heartbreaking.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 REV Ford Fusion -- Retired while leading on lap 118 after accident
WHAT DID YOU SEE? “I didn’t see much to be honest with you. By the time I could see anything they were already turned right and there was nowhere to go. Seeing the replay, I don’t know, people not cleared clearing themselves and then wrecking and take the leader out, so that’s unfortunate. Our car was pretty good today. We just kind of got held up there and we might not have been as strong at the end of that run, but I thought we could have at least held on for that stage and never got the chance. The positives you look at is that we had a good car and that’s something to hold your head high about.”
HOW FRUSTRATING IS THIS? “It’s obviously frustrating when lapped cars wreck and take the leader out. That’s unfortunate. They weren’t lap down cars yet, I guess, but I don’t know. I didn’t really see much. By the time I got away from the car right in front of me they were already turned right up the race track and I was already going to the top. I kind of saw them spinning low and I thought that top was gonna be OK and then they slid back up and got us. That stinks. I thought we had a good car and nothing to show for it.”
WHAT ABOUT THE STOPPING AND STARTING AND THE RAIN. ANY RAIN WHILE RACING? “There was some rain at the end of that first little run before the competition caution. It rained pretty hard and the track was wet, but that second part was nice. It was dry and I thought it was gonna go to the end there until that happened.”
HOW WAS THE RACING? “I thought it was just about to get to where you could go to the top. It was starting to get that way, but I never got a chance to witness it.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Sunny D Ford Fusion -- Finished 4th
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE DOWN THE STRETCH? “The call where Brian got us to come down pit road, that was the longest green flag run we had and we had a little bit better tires than some of the guys up front, so that was nice for us. All in all, I was bummed that caution came out. Being on better tires I thought we were gonna be able to run down the 42. He was by far the class of the field I’d say throughout the whole run and the whole race. We were fighting track position, gaining it and losing it back-and-forth over the last two days, but, all in all, it was a really strong run for our Sunny D Ford. We had a good Friday, a good Saturday and a good race on Sunday andMonday. I’m glad we were able to get it all in and we appreciate the fans for sticking around. That was a fun race. I love the race track It’s nice being able to run the bottom, run the top on the long runs. It made for some good racing.”
IF THAT CAUTION DIDN’T COME OUT DID YOU HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM? “I think so. The newer tires that we had were gonna be better for us to catch the 42 on the long run. My spotter was kind of keeping me posted once I got into second where the 42 was and I was gonna start pushing really hard there to run him down over the last 30 laps. I wish it would have stayed green. That would have been nice, but then that caution came out and I still thought we were gonna have a shot at it. Our balance was just a little bit different with the new tires they got shipped in, so, all in all, a great effort for our Sunny D team all weekend long. Hopefully, we can get some momentum going and carry it on the rest of the season.”
YOU OVERCAME A LOT OF ADVERSITY, BUT YOUR CAR WAS A ROCKET AT THE END UNTIL THE LAST PIT STOP. WHAT HAPPENED? “The guys brought me a great Sunny D Ford all weekend long. We were really, really strong and I felt confident coming into the race yesterday and today. We fought adversity. We lost track position multiple times and had to pass a lot of cars to get back to where we were. Brian made a great call coming down pit road and taking tires before that long green flag run that we had. We got into second and I was hoping it would just go green to the end, knowing that we had better tires than the 42, who was the class of the field all day. Then we restarted there at the end. Brian said he didn’t get to really check the stagger on these tires and maybe make an adjustment with it. We didn’t take fuel and that sometimes tightens you up a little bit, but, all in all, a great weekend for us. Hopefully, this will kind of get us going and kick start us into next week and the rest of the season.”
HOW WAS IT BATTLING KYLE AT THE END? “It would have been fun if I would have had something a little bit better to go racing with. I didn’t feel really good once we restarted there. I just didn’t really have a lot of grip compared to the restarts before, where I felt really good all race long on restarts, so that was a bummer. It was fun. I had to get to him and he was really loose. I was able to get underneath him and then I couldn’t quite clear him. It would have been nice if I could have cleared him, but we still didn’t have the best car there on the short run. We were definitely a better long run car.”
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion -- Finished 6th
“We worked on it all day. We weren’t very good yesterday at all. Finally, when the track moved to the top our car got a lot better, so we kind of were prepared for that and our car was kind of set up to run the top and I was just miserable trying to run the bottom. My car was really, really bad on the bottom and we finally got it to where it was going pretty good up top and the caution would come out. I feel like if the race would have been a normal race and we would have run a lot of green flag up top, we would have been pretty good. It’s a good day. I’m a little disappointed with sixth, but, at the same time, I’m happy and pleased that we rebounded after a bad day in Texas. To come out of here with a sixth is a great day and I feel like we could have got more if it would have stayed green. I wish we would have run like 300 more laps (laughing).”
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford Fusion -- Finished 8th
“It was a long weekend. We weren’t very good all weekend long and just kept working on it. We were smart with the race. Early on there was a lot of trouble yesterday and even more today. It was just a weird weekend. I mean, the weather just capped off everything else that was going on. It seemed like the VHT, for whatever reason, a little bit different this time than it’s been in the past. Our tires seemed like they were a little bit different than what we’ve had, for whatever reason. It was a weird weekend, so I’m glad with a top 10.”
DAVID RAGAN, No. 38 The Pete Store Ford Fusion -- Finished 12th
“I felt like it took us about 300 laps to get all the monkeys off of our back and get our car repaired and kind of get some track position. I felt like our car was really good on a long run and we were fortunate that we had a couple of long runs today. I’m proud of our guys for never giving up. We spent a lot of time on pit road, so it was a solid day and I’m happy to get out of here and look forward to Richmond.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Fusion -- Finishing Position: 23rd
“The tire came apart on that restart and we were trying to bring it on home, but it just didn’t come together.”
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion -- Finished 7th
“We weren’t that good pretty much the whole time. Today we were worse, just really loose, especially taking off, but we stayed in there and fought all day. We had another bad pit stop there at the end and wound up seventh, but, all in all, considering all the circumstances I guess it was a pretty good weekend.”
TREVOR BAYNE, No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Fusion -- Finished 24th
“The results stink right now. We want to be clicking off top 15s and top 10s every week, but we haven’t had a clean weekend yet. Something has happened every weekend to hurt our result. We just have to keep working to clean up our weekends. You can’t have wrecks on the race track and you can’t have blown tires. You can’t have silly things happening and some of that is on us, so we just have to keep working to clean it up and get the most out of the weekends. We’ll go to Richmond here this next weekend, another short track where a lot of stuff is happening. I just hope for a clean weekend where we can go get the results we deserve.”