Stenhouse lucks into Atlanta Nationwide win
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. needed luck, some fresh tires and a little push from Brad Keselowski to win his fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the season on Saturday night.
Oh, and he might have gotten a little help from a water bottle, too.
Stenhouse, Jr. took advantage of a late caution to score a come from behind victory with a last-lap pass over Kevin Harvick in the NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Keselowski claimed the runner-up spot just ahead of Harvick, followed by series points leader Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.
With the victory, Stenhouse managed to gain seven points on Sadler and now trails by 12 points in the standings.
“The 22 (Keselowski) is gonna be a great Ford teammate next year,” said Stenhouse. “He pushed us down that front straightaway. He had the new tires on and definitely helped us get to the win.
I just had to get down on (Harvick) as tight as I could. I’m glad we could make the end of the race interesting because he killed us for the first 194 laps. He killed us, but it was cool to get him on that restart. Kevin is a great driver and it was fun to go up against him.”
It was an improbable victory that no one expected after Harvick dominated the race from early on, grabbing the top spot for the first time on lap 18 and going on to lead 157 of the 200 laps, at one point leading by over 15 seconds to the second-place car.
Keselowski, meanwhile, was having a miserable night, with pit road miscues and a speeding penalty forcing him to fight back from two laps down just to get back in contention.
But the entire race would hinge on a single caution on lap 184 for debris just as the field was just completing green-flag pit stops, allowing Allgaier and Keselowski to pit under caution. But on the ensuing restart, Danica Patrick and James Buescher tangled on the backstretch to bring out the red flag, setting up a four-lap dash to the finish.
Under green, Harvick used the inside line to power to the front of the field again as Stenhouse tried to keep up, while Keselowski moved up from eighth to move into the third spot.
On the final lap, Keselowski got right on Stenhouse’s bumper and helped push him past Harvick on the high side in turn two, following right behind to take second.
Half a lap later, Stenhouse was the winner. And controversy began stirring.
“The six (Stenhouse) had been good on the restarts on the top side, and you had the car with the freshest tires who threw the water bottle out to get the caution pushing him from behind,” said Harvick, referring to Keselowski. “That’s a tough way to lose it, but those guys got to my quarter panel hanging on the outside there and I didn’t get to the bottom and they got a good run off of (turn) two.
“We had a good run, obviously it wasn’t what NASCAR wanted, so we kept throwing cautions for things, and the car that caused the caution pushed the car that won the race by us and we weren’t able to get by. What do you do?
Keselowski, for his part, fessed up to tossing the water bottle, but said it was nothing he and other competitors hadn’t done before.
“Obviously, yeah, I threw a water bottle out,” said Keselowski. “Everybody in the dang garage throws a water bottle out and the tear offs off their nose. NASCAR doesn’t throw yellows for that usually. So if they say there’s another reason I’ve got to believe them.
“Do I feel guilty for throwing a water bottle out of the car? No, everybody throws that stuff out of the car. I threw about three out during the course of the race, and I do every race. I don’t know how the two are linked together without NASCAR saying so. I can understand Kevin being frustrated, I’d be frustrated too. Sometimes in racing you do everything right and it just doesn’t work out.”
NASCAR countered by showing video of the debris that had actually caused the caution, claiming the water bottle had been thrown out several laps earlier and would not have warranted a caution.
Harvick didn’t buy it.
“It was pretty obvious – they put it on TV and the caution came out the same lap,” said Harvick. “'He told me after the race that he'd never thrown a water bottle out, and you know what that means. He told me it was intentional. So, sleep good tonight.”
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