Heading into today's race at the Circuit of the Americas, I figured it could be anybody's race. My favorites for the EchoPark Grand Prix were Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch since they had competed in the truck race on Saturday and had that additional practice to carry into the Cup Series Race. If you had bet on the two to finish in the top five, you would've won a decent amount of money, especially if you parlayed it. Chastain finished in fourth. Kyle Busch finished in second.
The big question mark heading into the day was Ricky Stenhouse. Generally speaking, I can solidly predict how Stenhouse will finish. But today, I had no idea what to expect. Based on the previous two years at COTA, I wasn't expecting that great of a finish considering he had yet to finish in the top 20.
The first ten laps of the race for Stenhouse were consistent, which is surprising considering turn one of COTA could take a driver from first to twentieth or vice versa. But, Stenhouse stayed consistent throughout. That is until lap ten when he spun out because Bubba Wallace's car was leaking oil. I'm no expert on NASCAR, but oil leaking from your car is not a good problem to deal with within the first ten laps of the race. Wallace would end up out of the race and finishing in the thirty-seventh.
After hitting the pits, Stenhouse found himself back in thirtieth, but for the next twenty laps would climb his way up the leaderboard and find himself in third place before having to pit again. During this run, Brad Keselowski spun out for the second time, which is hilarious because, well, I just hate Brad Keselowski.
After hitting the pits again, Stenhouse fell back to twenty-first but, in Ricky Stenhouse fashion, began scratching and clawing for each position, finding himself in sixteenth place before the pit stop from hell.
Based on what I heard over the scanner and what I saw in the cockpit view, the #47 car was not fully in the pit box. This I know for a fact. Now, either one of two things happened here, and if somebody knows which one is correct, please leave a comment. First, the team couldn't work on the car until he was fully in the pit box, and for some reason, that took forever, or his team started working on the car before he was fully in the pit box and was penalized and kept in the pit box for x amount of time.
Regardless of what happened, this pit stop would move Stenhouse from sixteenth to thirty second. This was on lap forty-two, and climbing up in position to finish strong was the unlikely outcome at this point.
For the rest of the race, Ricky seemed to struggle. He was gaining little in position and would fall back when he did gain some ground. Over the scanner, you could tell the team was getting frustrated and running out of options to finish the day strong.
The battle lasted for about sixteen laps before pitting again. Coming back on the track in twenty-fifth. Then, on turn one, Ross Chastain got turned and hit the back rear of the #47 car. So in the pits again we go. We're on lap 59.
The issue with the car was not fixed, and two laps later, on lap sixty-one, Ricky was back in the pits while the race was still green. Stenhouse fell back to thirty-first. For several laps, Ricky was on an island. Nobody around him just running the course until finally, on lap sixty-five, Austin Dillon's #3 car had issues causing debris to litter the track, forcing a caution and allowing Ricky to catch up with the rest of the pack.
After Dillon's caution, there were three other restarts. With each restart, Stenhouse kept digging, gaining an insane amount of position. He miraculously missed every wreck on the track during each overtime. His skill to get through wrecks amazes me. I swear he has been in so many close calls for the last two years but never gets wrapped up in any of them. If you could be inducted in the Hall of Fame for your ability to dodge major wrecks, Stenhouse would be first ballot.
Within the last ten laps of the race, Stenhouse climbed from thirty-first to seventh. In ten laps. With a damaged car. I won't say that this performance was better than his performance at the Daytona 500, but one thing is certain: Stenhouse and the #47 team have grit. They know how to dig deep and get things done. A top-ten finish was not what I expected this morning, but I will take it. On top of that, Keselowski's day ended on lap fifty-six, and he would finish in thirty-fifth.
Overall, today's race was awesome. I slept on road course races but won't do so anymore. Now we get to look forward to three short track races. Richmond, Briston Dirt (which I expect Ricky to be a contender in), and Martinsville before finally landing in Talladega, which I am so excited for.