FORT WORTH — It was Junior Day on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Just a few hours after Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for Saturday's Sprint Cup race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pulled away to take the checkered flag in the Nationwide O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stenhouse nearly lost the lead to Denny Hamlin on a restart with seven laps to go, but he regained control and ran away with the victory.
“It was crazy, man,” Stenhouse said. “I think I spent the whole five laps we were under caution praying for a good restart, and everything worked out for us. Denny was on the left rear of us and got us a little bit loose, but we managed to hang on.”
The win was Stenhouse's second of the year, pulling him within four points of Elliott Sadler for the Nationwide lead.
Paul Menard led exactly half of the 200 laps, more than any other driver. He took second, and Kasey Kahne was third, both hoping to gain some knowledge that will benefit them in Saturday's Samsung Mobile 500.
“I guess what I can take away from this is what it does when the sun goes down and the track cools off,” Menard said. “You can see what the tires feel like after 40 or 50 laps and where you can move around on the racetrack to gain time.
“The cars drive so different, it's hard to relate a whole lot back and forth. But maybe some of the adjustments we made can translate over.”
Kahne, who has been hit with a long stretch of bad luck this season, was just happy to still be driving at the end of the race.
“To finish and to run up front the whole race and be competitive was nice,” he said. “We qualified well in the Cup car, so I feel pretty good about all that.”
The win was the fourth straight Nationwide victory for Jack Roush at Texas, with Trevor Bayne winning last fall, and Carl Edwards winning the two before that.
Danica Patrick fought back from a lap down to finish eighth, her best run of the season.
In all, four full-time Sprint Cup drivers finished in the top 10, making the victory a significant achievement for Stenhouse, who is on the verge of making the jump to the top series.
“To have a full group of them here this weekend on a racetrack where they tend to win a lot of Nationwide races, it really means a lot,” Stenhouse said. “Denny Hamlin and those guys are up there competing for wins (in Cup).
“It builds confidence in me that I can go out and do that. We've been running up there with those guys all year, so we've just got to keep it up.”