Ricky Stenhouse Jr. raced to his second win of the young season Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. The 2011 Nationwide Series champion has already equaled his victory total from last season after an impressive outing in which he led 69 of 200 laps.
It didn’t come easy, as he was forced to hold off Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard on a late restart. But the No. 6 Roush Fenway proved more than capable of fending off the Sprint Cup moonlighters, pulling away in the final laps by nearly a second and a half. It was the fourth straight Nationwide win for owner Jack Roush at the high-banked 1.5 mile track.
However, it was far from a foregone conclusion that Stenhouse would take the win. Paul Menard’s No. 33 RCR Chevy sat on the pole and was arguably the dominant car of the evening, leading an even 100 of the 200 laps run. But a disappointed Menard was unable to corral what would have been his second career Nationwide victory.
Kasey Kahne finished third for Turner Motorsports, Hamlin came home fourth, and rookie Austin Dillon finished fifth.
David Ragan finished sixth driving the No. 27 of GC Motorsports International. The team, formerly known as Go Canada Racing, has the long-term goal of becoming the first fully Canadian team to compete full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. More results like Saturday night’s at TMS will go a long way towards achieving that goal.
Justin Allgaier finished seventh, followed by Danica Patrick in eight, Michael Annett in ninth and Steve Arpin in tenth.
That’s right, Danica Patrick finally scored her first top-10 of the 2012 season. She ran outside the top 10 for most of the night, but found her way near the front by the end of the race. Kudos to the woman.
Speaking of lady drivers, Johanna Long actually started two positions ahead of Patrick. She ran a solid race and eventually finished 20th, but laps behind the leaders. But it’s not a bad night when you finish ahead of more than half the guys, including such luminaries as Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Truex, Scott Speed and Brian Scott.
The race featured a couple of unusual cautions for light outages when a bank of light near Turn 3 went dark. The second time this happened, officials threw the red flag for 5 ½ minutes while a faulty breaker was repaired.
The Nationwide championship picture is beginning to take shape, and it has a familiar look. Last season the championship battle was clearly a two-man race between eventual champion Stenhouse and challenger Elliott Sadler. This year, it’s shaping up to be more of the same. Sadler leads Stenhouse by a mere four points coming out of Texas. Sadler finished 12th at Texas, his first finish outside the top 10 this season.
However, series newcomer Austin Dillon is doing his best to make it a three-man race. The driver of the black No. 3 Richard Childress Racing machine is just 20 points behind the leaders, and he’s matched them with four top-5’s and five top-10’s in the first six races of the year. He’s yet to win, however, and that’s the difference between Dillon and the Sadler/Stenhouse duo: both of those others already have two wins on the season.
Meanwhile, Stenhouse’s Roush Fenway teammate Trevor Bayne did not race at Texas due to a lack of sponsorship. Bayne was perhaps the only driver with the ability to make it a foursome at the top, with one top-5 and three top-10’s in 2012. After skipping Texas he fell to seventh in the standings, 67 points behind leader Sadler.
Nationwide Series standings after Texas
1. Elliott Sadler
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., -4
3. Austin Dillon (R), -20
4. Sam Hornish Jr., -54
5. Michael Annett, -64
6. Cole Whitt (R), -65
7. Trevor Bayne, -67
8. Tayler Malsam, -84
9. Justin Allgaier, -84
10. Mike Bliss, -100
11. Danica Patrick, -115
12. Joe Nemecheck, -115
13. Mike Wallace, -119
14. Jeremy Clement, -120
15. Jason Bowles (R), -128
16. Benny Gordon (R), -131
17. Eric McClure, -135
18. Brian Scott, -143
19. Kenny Wallace, -143
20. Blake Koch, -148