Streaking away from Denny Hamlin and pole-sitter Paul Menard after a restart with six laps left, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The victory was the defending series champion’s second in six starts this season and the fourth of his career. It was also the fourth straight Nationwide win at Texas for Roush Fenway Racing,
Menard finished second, with Kasey Kahne passing Hamlin for third in the closing laps. Austin Dillon ran fifth, and series points leader Elliott Sadler faded to 12th during the final short run and saw his margin over Stenhouse shrink to four points.
Danica Patrick came home eighth, taking advantage of fresh tires acquired during a pit stop under the final caution. Patrick restarted 13th on Lap 195 of 200 and gained five positions before the end of the race.
“I loved coming here, and we finally finished off a race,” said Stenhouse, who promised a traditional cowboy hat that goes to the victor to every member of his team. “I felt a lot better coming into this year, obviously, with the championship from last year, but one thing that I do enjoy about this is that we’re running up front every week.
“We have a shot to win every week, and that’s all we can do, and when we can finish it off like that, it’s a positive.”
Patrick posted her top Nationwide result since a career-best fourth at Las Vegas in March of last year.
“It’s always quite chaotic when you have such great tires along with everyone around you,” Patrick said. “It’s two-wide — and you want to get by them. But, all in all, it’s nice to have a good finish for the team, for GoDaddy, for everybody that works really hard. We’ve kind of had a tough going to the start of the year, so that was fun.”
The middle third of the event featured scintillating racing that mirrored the action from Fontana, Calif., three weeks earlier. Menard started fifth on a restart on Lap 104 but quickly regained the lead, after Blake Koch’s No. 15 Chevrolet bounced off the inside wall on the backstretch to cause the third caution.
Throughout the ensuing green-flag run, Menard kept Stenhouse at bay, with the margin fluctuating between .2 and 1.5 seconds. On Lap 143, Sadler passed Stenhouse for the second position but couldn’t gain ground on Menard, as the lead-lap cars began a round of green-flag pit stops.
After the pit stops cycled through, Menard held a 2.188-second lead over Stenhouse, who surged past Sadler for the second spot on Lap 151. Menard maintained an advantage of more than two seconds until the caution flag flew for the fourth time on Lap 162, when track lighting failed on the inside of the backstretch for the second time Friday night.
Dillon and David Ragan stayed on the track under the yellow, while the rest of the leap-lap cars came to the pits for tires and fuel. NASCAR red-flagged the race after Lap 169 as track workers replaced the faulty breaker that proved to be the source of the light failure.
After the race restarted on Lap 173, Stenhouse blew past Dillon into the lead on Lap 177, with Menard in pursuit. Stenhouse stretched the margin to more than a second before the engine blew in Kurt Busch’s No. 54 Toyota on Lap 187, necessitating the fifth caution of the evening.