KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rallied from two laps down at Kansas Speedway to salvage his points day.
Then he stole a win, as well.
Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide Series champion, lucked into his sixth win of the season Saturday when leader Kyle Busch ran out gas heading into the final turn. A late caution extended the race by six laps, and it ran the fuel tanks dry of several cars at the front of the field.
Not Stenhouse, though. Because he ran into Joey Logano early into the race, dropping him two laps down during his stops for repairs, he was on a different pit sequence and had plenty of gas to make it to the end.
So he liked his chances when he lined up fifth on the final restart.
As the field prepared to take the green, Sam Hornish Jr. ran out of gas and NASCAR called off the start. It tacked on yet another lap, and that cost Paul Menard, who led a race-high 110 laps but ran out of gas as the field took the green.
Busch, who was seeking his first Nationwide win of the season and first in his Kyle Busch Motorsports entry, was the leader on the restart and jumped out to a comfortable lead. But his tank ran dry as he exited the third turn, and Stenhouse cruised past for the improbable victory.
“I saw Kyle and he was really shaking it down the back straightaway trying to make sure it had a lot of fuel and I thought it was good to go,” Stenhouse said. “But right in the center it ran out and I was able to sneak by him on the outside and get the win. That was exciting.”
The win tightened up the Nationwide championship race, too. Stenhouse was 13 points behind leader Elliott Sadler at the start of the race, but cut it to six points with three races remaining.
“We knew we had to do that. I didn’t see the win coming like this but I felt we had a car that was capable of winning before we got in the mess there with (Logano),” Stenhouse said. “We know we need to win races and if we win the rest we will win the championship no matter what. We have good tracks coming up for us and we are looking forward to getting to them.”
Austin Dillon finished second to clinch the manufacturer championship for Chevrolet.
Logano wound up third, and was still smarting from the early contact with Stenhouse. He made a point to rub against Stenhouse’s car on the cool-down lap to show his displeasure.
“I just got put in the fence,” Logano said. “It’s just a little early in the race for fencing each other.”
Stenhouse was trying to clean debris off his grille when he ran into Logano, and Stenhouse team owner Jack Roush assessed it as “from what I saw was 100 percent Ricky’s fault.”
Stenhouse figured the race was ruined at the time, and focused on getting as many points as possible.
“I thought the race was over for us. I thought I had killed it for us,” Stenhouse said. “I knew we would try to salvage as many points as we could. To be honest I was thinking top-15 and to try to get back one lap down and it was one thing at a time and we were able to do that.”
Sadler was fourth, and like teammate Dillon had to made a late pit stop for gas to avoid running out of fuel.
“All the fuel mileage and strategy, sometimes you just end up on the wrong side of it,” said Sadler. “That last caution just killed us and took a lot of points from us. Thought we managed it the best we could. Running for a championship, we had to pit and give up track position to make it to the end.”
Cole Whitt was fifth and followed by Busch, who has won a Nationwide race every year since 2004 but has only three chances left to keep his streak active.
“That’s our year, man. Nothing else to it than that,” said Busch, who led 29 laps. “What a frustrating defeat. Oh, well. You get defeated sometimes.”
Justin Allgaier was seventh, Michael Annett eighth, Hornish ninth and Danica Patrick rounded out the top 10 — her third top-10 finish of the season.