NASCAR Barometer: Stenhouse Triumphs in Wild Daytona Race

NASCAR Barometer: Stenhouse Triumphs in Wild Daytona Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. survived Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 carnage at Daytona International Speedway and claimed his second win of 2017, the second of his Monster Energy Cup series career and second on a superspeedway. The Roush Fenway Racing driver had one of the fastest cars in the field throughout the 400 laps, and it was an overtime charge that put him at the front of the field to capture the checkered flag. Many of the top contenders were involved in accidents, as most of the incidents started in front of the pack, leaving drivers with little chance of avoiding damage. Even Stenhouse was involved in contact, but the bumps didn't stop him from charging to the front to win in an overtime finish.

UPGRADE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse had his restrictor-plate racing skills on full display Saturday as he claimed the second victory of his Monster Energy Cup series career Saturday night in Daytona in impressive fashion. He survived the night's carnage, and had a car strong enough to overcome his own damage to make a last-lap pass for the win to score a second win for Roush Fenway Racing. The team is reaping the rewards of their hard work to return to the top of the series. Not many would have predicted the organization would score any wins in 2017 after veteran Greg Biffle left the team, but Stenhouse has stepped up and become the team leader. He already was looking forward to the playoffs but can

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. survived Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 carnage at Daytona International Speedway and claimed his second win of 2017, the second of his Monster Energy Cup series career and second on a superspeedway. The Roush Fenway Racing driver had one of the fastest cars in the field throughout the 400 laps, and it was an overtime charge that put him at the front of the field to capture the checkered flag. Many of the top contenders were involved in accidents, as most of the incidents started in front of the pack, leaving drivers with little chance of avoiding damage. Even Stenhouse was involved in contact, but the bumps didn't stop him from charging to the front to win in an overtime finish.

UPGRADE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse had his restrictor-plate racing skills on full display Saturday as he claimed the second victory of his Monster Energy Cup series career Saturday night in Daytona in impressive fashion. He survived the night's carnage, and had a car strong enough to overcome his own damage to make a last-lap pass for the win to score a second win for Roush Fenway Racing. The team is reaping the rewards of their hard work to return to the top of the series. Not many would have predicted the organization would score any wins in 2017 after veteran Greg Biffle left the team, but Stenhouse has stepped up and become the team leader. He already was looking forward to the playoffs but can enter with even more confidence now.

Chase Elliott – Elliott joined the list of top machines to suffer contact late into Saturday's race. He was lucky in that the damage he sustained was primarily from spinning through the grass, which meant his night was not over. There were more accidents to come, but neither he nor the team gave in, and with just five laps remaining he found himself inside the top 15 and capable of grabbing the victory. A final caution put him too far back to challenge, but it wasn't for lack of talent. He finished the night in 22nd position, which wasn't representative of his pace and effort that night. Next week presents another opportunity, however. Elliott started eight in Kentucky last season but finished 30th after trouble.

Ryan Blaney – After a strong first-stage performance on Saturday things almost came unraveled for Blaney. The No. 21 driver missed his pit stall in the post-stage stops, which inadvertently caused contact to his rear fender from Joey Logano who was entering his stall. By the end of the stage he was back in the top 10, though. Things didn't get any easier as the laps ticked off and he fought a back and forth battle working forward and dropping back through the field. The fight finally became too much to endure after a late crash at the front of the field involved him again. Blaney only has one Cup series start at Kentucky. He qualified 15th in that effort but finished 35th.

Matt Kenseth – Despite Toyota not qualifying well for Saturday's race, it was Kenseth and teammate Denny Hamlin that fought for the second stage win of the night. Kenseth took advantage of momentum through turns three and four to pull out a sizeable lead over Hamlin to claim his second stage win of the season, and then remained stationed near the front of the field throughout the final stage. Most crashes happened at the front of the field on Saturday, though. That was true again in the final laps, and Kenseth's excellent night was dented before he could finish the job. Kenseth has never finished outside of the top 10 in all six Kentucky races and he won there in 2013 making him a top contender this week.

Kyle Larson – Larson was involved in a crash early in Saturday night's race, but neither he nor the team gave up. Their repairs throughout pit stops along with Larson's tenacity working through the field put him in contention for the victory with less than 10 laps remaining. However, as can be typical for restrictor-plate racing his night ended just before the checkered flag waved. Contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent his car into the air and out of what could have been the completion of an impressive recovery. Fantasy owners should be encouraged with this team's ability to put themselves into winning positions. Despite starting from pole at Kentucky in 2015 he has never finished in the top 15.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski used his superior Penske Racing Ford power to earn his third stage victory of the season in Saturday night's opening of the Coke Zero 400. The Penske Racing Fords demonstrated significant power in practice, and Keselowski's ease of holding off the field while out front meant he had the best car early on. Things came completely unraveled later in the race when he was caught up in multiple issues, though. What started as a promising night with one of the fastest cars at his disposal ended up as a frustrating cascade of trouble. Keselowski does have three wins from six starts at Kentucky Speedway, though. It doesn't get much better than that for fantasy owners.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – In his final Daytona start as a full-time driver, Earnhardt put his car on pole and took up station at the front of the field. However, in the second stage he felt a flat tire and ended up hitting the outside wall and falling multiple laps behind the leaders as the team worked to fix the damage. He eventually made his way back onto the lead lap only to be caught in another accident when Kevin Harvick spun in front of him, which completed his difficult night. Earnhardt finished 13th in last year's Kentucky race and has two two-fives from six starts at the circuit and is still searching for a win to lock in a playoff spot.

Kyle Busch – Busch's winless streak continued in Daytona with a crash in the second stage that made the rest of his night a frustrating endeavor. He had a tire rub that caused him to lose control in turn 2 directly in front of brother Kurt Busch. His spin took out a number of top cars and caused significant damage that ruled the hard-luck driver out of contention for the rest of the race. His return to the track was solely an effort to collect as many points as possible with the win completely out of grasp. He still searches for the elusive 2017 win, but with two Kentucky wins he should feel some confidence heading into this week's race.

Joey Logano – Logano was an innocent bystander in Kyle Busch's crash when he chose the wrong path through the smoke and crashing cars ahead. He collided with Busch as well as the outside wall, and the damage he sustained was significant enough to end his night. His race ending as it did was a huge disappointment considering how strong Ford, and particularly Penske, was throughout the weekend. Logano had been hovering near the bottom of the playoff standings and needs to turn his finishes around to get back into contention. A win would go a long way to boosting his championship effort, but those chances are beginning to run out. In six Kentucky starts he has two top-fives and three top-10s.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Daniel Suarez – Now that the season is entering its second half Suarez will be visiting most of the tracks on the schedule for the second time in the Cup series and can leverage his patient learning. He did just that on Saturday when he came to the front in the final miles and confidently led the field until being passed by Kasey Kahne. It was another mature performance from the rookie, but this time he was in contention to win. Fantasy players should expect him to be in more situations like that in the second half of this season. He remains a smart driver who can navigate his way to the finish, which is the first step in finding Victory Lane.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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