Kyle Busch was the leader of the pack Sunday afternoon as the laps clicked down to the finish.
But as always in Talladega, there were dark passengers in the rear-view mirror.
They were coming for him.
“When they have too big of a run, you can’t do anything about it,” Busch said.
Busch may as well have waved the white flag as Stenhouse took the checkered one in overtime.
Stenhouse found enough muscle on the last lap to put the squeeze on Busch and win for the first time in 158 Cup starts.
He definitely had found enough speed this weekend, starting from the pole in the Geico 500.
So what was the move, Ricky?
“We really didn’t have a plan,” he said.
This is Talladega featuring its indiscriminate madness, as seen in an 18-car wreck earlier in the day.
NASCAR Nation favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a left rear-wheel come loose late in the race.
Defending race champ Brad Keselowski wasn’t close enough to make a difference.
That left Busch and Stenhouse in the rush to Victory Lane.
“We were side-drafting each other like crazy,” Stenhouse said, “so that was one heck of a race and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Naturally, everybody was a bit rusty in the Victory Lane protocol.
Ricky Stenhouse Sr. wanted to celebrate with his son but wasn’t in the pit area, so he tried to climb a fence and ended up outside the track trying to get in through the infield tunnel.
The security team stopped him and after proper vetting gave him a ride to join the festivities.
Danica Patrick, Stenhouse’s girlfriend, was already there, with their two dogs.
They will have fun stories to share about their Talladega experience. Others, not so much.
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 ’Dinger’s Chevy going airborne and landing upside down.
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 the crashfest.
“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 melee.
This was a soothing salve for a Roush Fenway Racing team that has been a bit of a train wreck with stock cars in recent seasons. The group hadn’t won a race in 101 starts and missed the postseason in 2015 and 2016. Roush downsized this season when veteran Greg Biffle did not return, making them a two-man crew for the first time since 1995.
It left owner Jack Roush with a less-than-stout-looking crew on paper, with Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne racing on the Cup side.
The victory is a game-changer.
“I think it means everything for us,” said Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “It's well documented some of the transition that we've gone through in the last few years, and I think everybody recognizes there's ebb and flow in sports, and one of the things that Jack has always said is that you don't dig out of that just by happenstance, you've got to put the effort into it.”
Human nature the way it is, Stenhouse had allowed some self-doubts to crop up intermittently. No more.
“After qualifying I felt I couldn’t screw this up,” Stenhouse said.
Even though he had no plan at the end.
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