Long: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., his father savor Victory Lane after challenges getting there
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Racers, father and son, both had their dramatic victories Sunday.
After Ricky Stenhouse Jr. held off Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch on the final lap to earn his first career Cup victory, his father faced as daunting a challenge in his race to Victory Lane.
Perched on an RV along the backstretch, Ricky Stenhouse Sr. sought the quickest path to Victory Lane.
He tried to climb the fence to cross the backstretch.
When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his first ARCA race in 2008 at Kentucky Speedway, father and son climbed opposite sides of a fence to celebrate together.
This time, the father, who is in his early 60s, couldn’t make it up the fence.
So he started running along a perimeter road to a place to cross the track but security stopped him. Excited and emboldened by a day in the Talladega sunshine watching stock cars scream by at nearly 200 mph, he was in a fever pitch to get to his son.
Once he told security whom he was, a phone call was made to the track’s director of security. Soon, he was taken to Victory Lane.
“Everything that I know about racing, I learned from him,’’ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. “I’m glad he was able to be here in Victory Lane.’’
Ricky Stenhouse Sr. joined a celebration a few years in the making.
It was Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first Cup win in 158 starts. It ended Roush Fenway Racing’s 101-race winless drought that went back to 2014.
Until this season, Roush Fenway Racing had become a cautious tale. Lack of performance and sponsorship had knocked the once-mighty team down.
The organization, which has won 136 Cup races and two titles, downsized from three teams to two before this season — the first time Roush has run only two cars since 1995.
A team that put all five cars in NASCAR’s Chase in 2005, has seen a decline in recent years.
Matt Kenseth left after the 2012 season. Carl Edwards left after the 2014 season. Greg Biffle’s ride went away after last year, leaving Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.
Both endured mighty struggles. Stenhouse, the 2013 rookie of the year, never has had more than six top-10 finishes in a season. Sunday’s win was his fifth top 10 of the year.
“I think you go through that so long that you almost lose a little — all your confidence,’’ Stenhouse said of the struggles in Cup. “You know, we would have good runs here and there that would kind of boost that confidence back up and get everybody kind of energized again, and then we would kind of lose it.’’
A good run at the beginning of the race helped him at the end Sunday. Stenhouse started on the pole and led the first 13 laps. He watched how Brad Keselowski, running second, maneuvered his car to keep others behind themin overtime.
Jimmie Johnson pushed him by Busch for the lead in Turn 1. Johnson was set to attack, but McMurray squeezed between Johnson and Busch instead of giving the No. 48 car the push it needed to take the lead.
Stenhouse blocked McMurray low. Stenhouse blocked Busch high.
“My spotter was telling me everywhere to go, and there at the end, I felt like I was needing to block (McMurray), but (Busch) was coming, so I was kind of back and forth, didn’t know which one to pick,’’ Stenhouse said. “You know, my spotter told me to pick the top, block (Busch).’’
Stenhouse crossed the finish line first. He did it at a track where he failed in qualify in 2014 after a bizarre set of circumstances that later led to a rule change.
“I remember sitting in the bus watching this race and knowing that this is a racetrack that we’ve had good success at,’’ he said. “It feels awesome to get the first win here.’’
It felt even better to celebrate it with his father after his dad’s circuitous path to Victory Lane.