Ricky Stenhouse Jr. prevailed in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 last night, closing the gap on Elliott Sadler at the top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.
It was a competitive race at Texas Motor Speedway, but in the end it was Stenhouse in victory lane, giving Roush Fenway Racing its fourth consecutive victory at the track. Stenhouse got out to an early lead but fell back a few spots when he had to make a pit stop. However, the racer kept toward the front for almost the entire race, finally jumping out to the lead with 23 laps to go.
A restart with six laps left allowed the other racers to catch up to Stenhouse, including Denny Hamlin. Hamlin provided the biggest challenge to Stenhouse, with the two cars going side-by-side after the first restart lap. In fact, only .001 seconds separated the two riders with five laps left to go. Yet it was ultimately Stenhouse that pulled away to seal the victory.
"Denny is a great race car driver and I know when I am up there racing with those guys that I have my work cut out for me," Stenhouse told The Associated Press. "Whew! We finally got a cowboy hat at Texas. I love coming here. We finally finished off a race."
Stenhouse is now just four points behind the leader of the Nationwide Series, Elliott Sadler, who finished 12th overall. The victory was a big one for Roush Fenway Racing, which has now won four straight Nationwide events in Texas. Carl Edwards was responsible for the previous two wins at Texas Motor Speedway, but did not compete in this year's race.
The event marked the return of Kurt Busch to NASCAR, as the controversial rider found a spot on his brother Kyle's Nationwide team. It wasn't exactly a happy return for Kurt however, as he scraped the wall early on and was forced to pit. He eventually worked his way back toward the front of the pack but had to end his day early when his engine blew, finishing 30th overall.
Many eyes were on Danica Patrick in the race, as the female driver attracts attention just about every time she gets on the track. The O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 was a momentous occasion for Patrick as it represented her first top 10 finish in NASCAR thus far.
Patrick fell behind several laps in the race, but cautions in NASCAR allow drivers to regain laps, and that's just what Patrick did. Taking advantage of Busch's blown engine with 14 laps to go, Patrick pitted and got new tires, then got back in the running order and moved up to 13th overall. Patrick actually drove past her pit stall and had to back up, or she might have gotten even closer to the front.
From there, Patrick was able to maneuver her way into the top ten, passing rookie Cole Whitt on her way to an eighth-place finish, her personal best in NASCAR.
"[Crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. made a great call," Patrick told ESPN. "It was really fun… All in all, it's nice to have a good finish for the team. [It was] tough going at the start of this year."
An unusual moment happened in the race when the lights went out at Texas Motor Speedway. Fortunately, the power outage happened during a caution, and no drivers were hurt having to navigate through darkness. The caution was extended and the race resumed a few minutes later.