DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had a roller coaster career in which he had to fight to keep a job, lost his seat at a NASCAR powerhouse team and opened his 14th season mired in a five-year losing streak.
To say this Daytona 500 was a milestone race was an understatement — for Stenhouse and for NASCAR.
Stenhouse won the Daytona 500 in double overtime and under caution Sunday night in the longest running of “The Great American Race.” The two overtimes pushed the 65th running of the race to a record 212 laps — a dozen laps beyond the scheduled distance and a whopping 530 miles (850 km).
It provided anxious moments before a landmark celebration: the first Daytona 500-winning team co-owned by a Black man and a woman.
Stenhouse’s win for JTG Daugherty Racing was the third of his career. JTG is the first single-car team to win the Daytona 500 since The Wood Brothers Racing did it with Trevor Bayne in 2011.
The team is owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickter along with former NBA player Brad Daugherty.
Daugherty, who left the track earlier Sunday with an eye irritation, is the first Black car owner to win the race, and Jodi Geschickter joined Teresa Earnhardt as female car owners to win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt ran Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 in 2003 and 2004.
To get to victory lane Sunday, JTG stuck with Stenhouse and even reunited him this season with the crew chief who led him to a pair of Xfinity Series titles years ago.
Mike Kelly’s biggest task was convincing Stenhouse that he can indeed win races. So ahead of the Daytona 500, he taped a note inside the Chevrolet. The message? The team believes in the driver.
“When I woke up today I told myself that I was going to do something that I used to do for Ricky when we had tough days,” Kelly said. “I just wrote him a note that only he would see. It was on top of the roll bar in front of him, and it just said, ‘We believe.’ That’s been our motto the whole offseason — that we believe.
“We’re trying to get people to believe in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. again.”
Stenhouse’s only other victories came in 2017, at Talladega and the summer race at Daytona.
Now, the 35-year-old from Olive Branch, Mississippi, has a repeat win at Daytona in NASCAR’s biggest race of the season.
“I think this whole offseason Mike just preached how much we all believed in each other. They left me a note in the car that said they believe in me and to go get the job done,” Stenhouse said. “Man, this is unbelievable. This was the site of my last win back in 2017. We’ve worked really hard. We had a couple shots last year to get a win and fell short.
“It was a tough season, but man, we got it done, Daytona 500.”
Kyle Larson was collected in the race-ending crash after he jumped out of line too early in an attempt to win. His disappointment was alleviated by Stenhouse’s victory.
“Happy that Ricky won. I’m super happy. That’s all I could think about after I crashed, waiting to hear that he won,” Larson said. “He’s one of my best friends, so I was like yelling into my helmet when I helped push him to the lead there. I was hoping it was going to stay green so it would have been me or him win.
“I can’t wait to go get changed and go give him a big hug because he is one of my great buddies.”
Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano finished second in a Ford for Team Penske, which won the race last year with Austin Cindric.
“Second is the worst, man,” Logano said. “Congratulations to Ricky. There’s nothing like winning the Daytona 500. That’s why it stings so much finishing second.”
Christopher Bell was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and followed by Chris Buescher in a Ford for RFK Racing and pole sitter Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports in a Chevrolet. It marked the first time the pole sitter has finished in the top five since Bill Elliott in 2001.
AJ Allmendinger was sixth for Kaulig Racing, Daniel Suarez seventh for Trackhouse Racing and Ryan Blaney eighth for Team Penske. Ross Chastain of Trackhouse and Riley Herbst of Rick Ware Racing rounded out the top 10.
Action sports star Travis Pastrana finished 11th in his Daytona 500 debut, and Kevin Harvick was 12th in his final Daytona 500. Harvick is retiring at the end of the year.
Kyle Busch dropped to 0 for 18 in the Daytona 500 but contended for his new Richard Childress Racing team. He was the leader ahead of teammate Austin Dillon with three laps remaining in regulation when a spin by Daniel Suarez brought out the caution and sent the race to overtime.
“Back in 1998, that would be the win, boys,” Busch radioed his team in a reference to how the late Dale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500. There was no overtime then and Earnhardt won under caution.
Busch wound up 19th after the race-ending crash in second overtime.
“I think this is the first time I led lap 200, so I wish it was 1998 rules. But, no, it’s just par for the course, just used to it and come down here every year to just find out when and where I’m going to crash and what lap I come out of the care center,” Busch said. “Who won? I don’t even know who lucked into it.”
Busch was told Stenhouse was the victor.
“There you have it,” he replied.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson made his return to the series and ran inside the top 15 for most of the race. He was collected in one of the crashes in overtime and finished 31st. Johnson has returned from two years of racing in the IndyCar Series as part owner of Legacy Motor Club and he plans to enter a handful of races.
Brad Keselowski led a race-high 42 laps but finished 22nd. He declined to speak to reporters after dropping to 0 for 14 in a race he desperately wants to win.
The Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, next Sunday in the final race of the track’s current configuration. It will be renovated into a short track after the race — a project that will prevent the track from hosting any racing in 2024. Kyle Larson won last year’s race.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports