Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looked to be on his way to an easy cruise to the checkered flag in Saturday night’s Kroger 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis. After leading 188 laps, he wound up finishing second, and Brad Keselowski, after leading only seven laps, celebrated the win in victory lane.
“Ricky really deserved to win this race,” Keselowski said.
Stenhouse started on the pole and Keselowski alongside in second position, but Keselowski gradually fell back through the field early as he battled a tight race car. Meanwhile, Stenhouse was joined up front by his Roush Fenway Racing teammates — Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne — for much of the race.
“We were tight early,” Keselowski’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, said.
The first 175 laps of the race were incident free, with the yellow flag waving only twice for debris, and for most of those laps, RFR occupied the top-three positions on the scoring pylon.
That all changed with the waving of the red flag to stop the race on lap 176 after a three car wreck involving both Rusty Wallace Racing drivers — Steve Wallace and Michael Annett — and Tim Andrews.
During the caution that followed, Austin Dillon opted to stay out to claim the top spot on the restart. Edwards, trying to beat teammate Stenhouse off pit road, was caught speeding and had to restart in the back.
Stenhouse and Bayne got by Dillon quickly to reclaim the top-two spots in the running order. Stenhouse lost his teammate upfront, though, when Bayne’s engine blew up with 12 laps to go in the race.
“It was one of our better race moments of the year,” Bayne said. “You just hate for it to end this way.”
By that time, The No. 22 team had gotten Keselowski’s car handling better, and he was making his way back toward the front.
“I drove through the holes in the traffic,” Keselowski said of his late-race return to the front.
The caution that came out as a result of Bayne’s engine was extended when Justin Allgaier’s car caught fire, leaving only three laps to go after the restart.
“I saw some sparks underneath the dash,” Allgaier said. “The engine wouldn’t run and then it really caught on fire.”
Another caution, the fifth of the race, came out when Elliott Sadler spun and collected his Kevin Harvick Inc. teammate, Dillon. That caution resulted in a green-white-checker attempt to end the race.
Sadler had started last after getting into the wall earlier in the day during qualifying. He made his way toward the front of the field throughout the race and was well within the top-five until his late-race spin ended his night.
Keselowski was able to get by Stenhouse on the final restart to take the win. Stenhouse finished second. James Buescher was third, Aric Almirola fourth, and Edwards worked his way back up into the top-five to finish fifth.
“I’ve been working all year on restarts,” Stenhouse said. He went on to say that Keselowski was still better on restarts.
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