Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Wins 59th annual Coke Zero 400

(Photo Credit: SaJorden Miller/ The SkyBoat)
Written by Adrian Beecher

Daytona, FL- In what was deemed Dale Jr.’s final race at Daytona, turned into an early exit for the #88 crew, in one of the wildest Coke Zero 400 races in history. With a record 14 caution flags and the longest race in the history of the event at Daytona, the race was more of a marathon that anything, as cars tried their best just to get their car’s to survive the carnage. In the end, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. making it to the Checkered flag first with just 24 cars left on the track as the flag waved.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started out on the pole for just the 2nd time ever at Daytona. However, it was Chase Elliot in the #24 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet making the early pass and overtaking the lead on lap 1.  Brad Keselowski in the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford claimed the lead on lap 4. Then on lap 9, the caution flag came out as Cole Whitt in the #72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet and the #83 of Ryan Sieg had engine problems that caused some fluids to leak onto the track.

That was cleaned up quickly, and they got back to green flag racing on lap 11 with Keselowski still out in front. Then on lap 15, DJ Kennington in the #15 Xchange of America Toyota lost control down the front stretch causing the 2nd caution of the night to come out. Lap 19 saw the field get back to green flag racing with Keselowski still leading the pack.

On lap 28, Kevin Harvick in the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford took over the lead from Keselowski by half a car length. Then on lap 30, Keselowski passed Harvick by .012 of a second for the lead. In a back and forth battle, it was Harvick regaining the lead on lap 33.  Then it was Dale Jr. taking the lead on lap 35 by .004 of a second over Keselowski. Then on lap 36, it was Keselowski back out in front.  Brad was able to hold the lead until lap 40 to claim the stage 1 victory.

After yellow flag stops and stage 2 had gotten underway, it was Erik Jones in the #77 Sports Clips Toyota out in front as they got back to green flag racing. The next three laps were a battle between Denny Hamlin and Jones as they traded the lead.

Then on lap 52, Dale Jr. hit the wall as he had a right side tire go down. This caused him to go down two laps. While this was going on,  Hamlin held onto the lead throughout. Then on lap 58, the caution came out as Jeffery Earnhardt in the #33 Hulu Chevrolet blew his engine, and he went behind the wall.

After yellow flag stops, Hamlin was still in the lead as they got back to green flag racing on lap 62. He was passed by teammate Matt Kenseth in the #20 car on lap 68. Shortly after, on lap 69 on the back stretch, Kyle Busch in the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota got sideway’s as a tire run caused a flat. That caused Kyle to spin and collect Joey Logano in the #22 along with a multitude of other cars.

As they get back to green flag stops, Kenseth was in the lead. Also, the caution helped Dale Jr. as he got a lap back, slowly crawling his way back into the mix. Kenseth would win stage 2, while Kyle Larson would get a lap back and Jr. stayed 1 lap down.

Then on lap 86 after getting back to green flag racing, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford out in front. Lap 90 saw Brendan Gaughan hit the outside wall in turn 4, which caused the caution come out. This put Dale Jr. back on the lead lap.

After yellow flag stops, it was Daniel Suarez in the #19 Subway Toyota out in the front of the pack as they got back to green flag racing on lap 94. Shortly after it was another caution flag as Michael McDowell in the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet got into Chase Elliott who had to cut left and clipped Trevor Bayne in the #6 Liberty National Life Insurance company Ford and they found themselves in the grass on the backstretch.

As we got back to green flag racing on lap 101, it was Suarez still out in front. Then on lap 102, Jimmy Johnson in the #48 Lowes Chevrolet took his first lead of the race. Meanwhile, Dale Jr. had made his way all the way to 7th. On lap 105 came with a huge wreck that started with Kevin Harvick and collected a slew of cars, including Dale Jr. That would end Jr.’s day as he went behind the wall with tears of emotion in his eyes.

With just 45 laps to go, it was Stenhouse Jr. out in front. Our 10th caution of the day came out on lap 116 as Brad Keselowski blew a right rear tire, causing him to hit the wall in turn 4. That would end Keselowski’s night.

The field got back to green flag racing with Kenseth out in front on lap 120. However, before the field could get back around the track, Kasey Kahne got spun around on the backstretch, bringing out the 11th caution of the night.

Lap 124 saw the field back under green flag racing with Kenseth still out in front, with Ty Dillon in the #13 Geico Military Chevrolet in 2nd. Then on lap 126, Ryan Blaney in the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford took his first lead of the race.

The 12th Caution of the day came out on lap 129 as Matt DiBennedetto in the #32 Incredible Bank Ford blew a right front tire. Lap 132 saw the green flag drop again with Blaney still in the lead. Then on lap 136, Kasey Kahne took over the lead as he made a move to the bottom of the racetrack.

As the battle continued, it was Daniel Suarez taking over the lead on lap 137. Then Kahne regained the lead on lap 138 as the excitement continued! Kahne was able to maintain the lead until lap 148 when Stenhouse Jr. took the lead. Then with just 9 laps to go, it was Dillon regaining the lead.

Then on lap 153, Kyle Larson got loose and was lifted in the air by Stenhouse Jr. This crash collected multiple cars and resulted in a red flag that lasted 8 minutes and 41 seconds. We got back to green flag racing with Ty Dillon out in front, with just 3 laps to go.

Then on the restart, Jamie McMurray in the #1 McDonald’s Chevy got into Erik Jones and spun him out on the backstretch. This sent us to overtime. With the restart, David Regan in the #38 Shriners Hospital for Children 95th Aniversary Ford was out in front and Ty Dillon in 2nd.

They were able to make it around the track the first lap with no incident. At this point, Stenhouse Jr. had taken the lead.  Then as the white flag flew, Elliott Sadler in the #7 Golden Corral Chevrolet spun out going into turn 1. However, the caution didn’t come out, and they were able to race to the start-finish line.

As they jockeyed for position, no one was able to get past Stenhouse Jr. as he took the checkered flag for his 2nd career Monster Energy Cup Series victory.  Behind Stenhouse Jr. was Clint Bowyer in the #14 Mobil 1 Ford in 2nd, with Paul Menard in the #27 Menards Chevrolet closely behind in 3rd.

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