TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. appeared headed for what would have been a career-best second-place finish Sunday in a rain-shortened Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Until the rain stopped, the racing resumed, the cars crashed, the clean-up was completed and the skies darkened. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race went overtime, four laps beyond its scheduled 188-lap distance.
Stenhouse, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, didn't benefit from the additional track time.
"We got stuck starting on the inside and our car was never good on the bottom," the Roush Fenway Racing driver said after falling from fifth to 13th during the green-white-checkered finish. "We were only good when we ran around the top. I felt like we had a strong car; it just didn't fall the right way."
On a day that saw 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth dominate only to finish eighth when he got shuffled out of the lead on the final restart, the 25-year-old Stenhouse led briefly -- once for two laps. The two-time Nationwide Series champion hooked up with RFR teammate Carl Edwards to flash to the front of the field as rain began to move into the area.
Edwards had just muscled his way into the lead as the rain intensified, leading NASCAR to throw the caution flag, eventually completely stopping the race for more than three and a half hours.
"I was kind of hoping it was going to go ahead and rain when we were second," Stenhouse confessed. "I could have used a top-five."
His 15th career start in Cup was a near miss, and Stenhouse said his car was "better than a 13th-place car."
"But I felt really good about how strong the car ran," he said. "How strong Carl ran. Both of us complained after Daytona (about horsepower). ... At Daytona I didn't feel like I had that power, I didn't have the car so I could make some of those moves. I felt really good about that (today)."
Considering that he was around at all, perhaps a top-15 finish wasn't anything to dismiss. He was a key participant in one of those nasty, multicar crashes that alter the face of the races at Talladega, somehow avoiding the disaster that engulfed others.
Shooting along the outside lane on the backstretch on lap 183, he and J.J. Yeley made contact. Yeley spun to the inside, collecting Kurt Busch, whose No. 78 Chevrolet proceeded to roll over and landed on the hood of Ryan Newman.
In all, 12 cars were involved. No drivers were injured despite the severity of the crash.
"I felt like the 36 was holding our line up pretty good and if I could get to the outside, I had a lot of cars that were going to come with me there," Stenhouse said. "Just didn't end up having enough room after we got to about his door.
"It was pretty dark so don't know if his spotter couldn't see or what. I felt like I got up to his door and just got pinched in the wall."
Stenhouse had been running second earlier when a round of green-flag pit stops saw him penalized for speeding upon entering pit road. The subsequent drive-through penalty shuffled him back to 25th. Slowly, he began working his way back toward the front.
"Pretty mad at myself for that (penalty) but we worked our way back up to fifth without a problem," he said. "The car was plenty fast in the draft and could lead very well on the outside; I felt like we could make some moves on the outside and make it work when we had to. So I felt good about that.
"It just was not as strong of a finish as we wanted."
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