KANSAS CITY, Kan. — All Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was trying to do was salvage some laps and stay in contention for the Nationwide Series championship.
“I thought it was over for sure…,” Stenhouse said of an accident with Joey Logano that dropped Stenhouse down two laps and to 23rd place midway through the Kansas Lottery 300 on Saturday at Kansas Speedway. “To be honest, I was thinking top-15.…”
Instead, Stenhouse kept taking advantage of cautions and restarts, and before he knew it, Kyle Busch ran out of gas during a green-white-checkered finish, enabling Stenhouse to thrill a sun-splashed crowd of 63,000 by beating rookie Austin Dillon to the finish line by 0.288 seconds for his sixth win of the season.
With the victory, Stenhouse, the reigning Nationwide Series champion, moved to within six points of points leader Elliott Sadler, who finished fourth, one spot behind Logano.
“It was a race we didn’t deserve to win, but we will take this one and move on,” said team owner Jack Roush, who will be putting Stenhouse in the Sprint Cup series next year.
The race was the first NASCAR event on the repaved and reconfigured Kansas Speedway track with new graduated banking, and it resulted in a track-record 12 cautions for a total of 50 laps. None of the seven accidents appeared as pivotal as when Stenhouse’s Ford plowed into pole-sitter Logano’s Toyota, sending him into the wall.
Stenhouse’s damage was on his right side, while Logano’s car was crumpled on both sides.
“If you looked at my car, you’d never guess I finished third,” cracked Logano, who was not happy with Stenhouse.
“But I understand it was a racing thing. When you get someone on the inside of you there … he was so close to my quarter … I started lifting when I was running out of real estate, and he just kept on coming, and then the wall came. That was the end of that.”
Stenhouse attributed the accident to debris on his grille, and accepted responsibility.
“I felt like we had one of the fastest race cars here, and then I made a mistake where we got some debris on the grille, and I was trying to get it off…. About that time (Logano) had to lift, and I turned and drove right into the side of him.
“(Crew chief) Mike Kelly and the guys did a great job at repairing the right side of the car as best they could and making adjustments so that we could still run fast. I thought we had a top five car still with all the damage. The cautions fell our way and Mike kept making great calls when we would come down pit road and we were able to get back on the lead lap and it put us in position where we were able to get fuel.”
Busch appeared on his way to winning at least one Nationwide race in nine consecutive seasons, tying Mark Martin for the series record when the Scott Lagasse Jr. and Hal Martin got tangled up on the 199th of the scheduled 200 laps, requiring a green-white-checkered finish.
Stenhouse restarted fourth and took the checkered flag when Busch ran out of fuel on the final lap.
“We weren’t worried about running out and that played into our favor for sure,” Stenhouse said. “I thought we were going to end up second, and then Kyle ran out there at the end, and it played right into our hand.
“I didn’t see the win coming like this, but we’ll take it.”
Busch, the all-time leader in Nationwide wins with 51, was incredulous that he came so close without winning.
“We ran out in the middle of (turns) three and four,” he said. “But, that’s our year, man. What a frustrating defeat.”