Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has taken flack for his performance at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday — and perhaps rightfully so.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver has Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his corner, though.
Stenhouse played key roles in two major wrecks in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. On Lap 54, he rear-ended Brad Keselowski, who was blocked by leader William Byron, in a crash that collected seven cars and left Keselowski fuming afterward. Then, 11 laps later, Stenhouse tagged Byron in a wreck that forced Byron and three others (including Kyle Busch) from the race, which ultimately was won by Erik Jones.
Here’s the first wreck, which Keselowski (sort of) took responsibility for:
And here’s the second:
After the race, Stenhouse was upfront about his mistakes on the track.
“We were going to have a run on the 24 (of Byron) on the inside, and the 2 (of Keselowski) had to check up (off the throttle),” Stenhouse said, via ESPN’s Bob Pockrass. “On the other one, I just tried to side-draft the 18 (of Busch) at the wrong place and got sucked into him and turned him around.
“It’s crazy here. We’re trying to get into the playoffs, gaining points and trying to put ourselves in position for the win. … We tore up all of our other Ford teammates — it didn’t go as planned.”
Busch, unsurprisingly, didn’t hold back when asked about the RFR driver wrecking him out.
“Stenhouse, I don’t know if he pushed up the track, it doesn’t matter — he got into our left rear quarter panel and wrecked us just after causing the big wreck just about five minutes earlier,” Busch said.
Busch hardly was the only person critical of Stenhouse, as outraged NASCAR fans took to Twitter to voice their frustrations. And that prompted Earnhardt to come to the defense of his former competitor.
Earnhardt’s right: Mistakes happen (especially in restrictor plate races) and Stenhouse will be just fine. Don’t expect the No. 17 Ford Fusion driver to stop being aggressive, though.
Stenhouse currently sits in 17th place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings — one spot out of qualifying for the playoffs. Last season, he qualified for the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images