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 series-leading 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 stretched the fuel tanks of several cars at the front of the field.
Not Stenhouse, though. Because he ran into Joey Logano early into the race, falling 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.
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.
Austin Dillon finished second to clinch the manufacturer title for Chevrolet.
TONY’S TASK: It was about this time a year ago Tony Stewart went on the charge that ultimately carried him to his third Sprint Cup title.
The schedule changed this year because of the repave at Kansas this summer, but it was this same weekend at Talladega that Stewart followed up an eighth-place finish at Charlotte with a seventh-place run. He won the following two races at Martinsville and Texas, was third at Phoenix and then clinched the title by winning the season-ending race at Homestead.
“We’re in a little different scenario this year than last year. We’re a little further back,” said Stewart, who is eighth in the Chase and 50 points back.
Stewart squandered an opportunity to pick up ground two weeks ago at Talladega when he triggered a 25-car pileup trying to protect the lead on the last lap.
It dropped the defending champion from winning the race to a 22nd place finish.
“I had an opportunity to gain 20-some odd points and that would have put us in a very similar situation where we were last year,” Stewart said. “That was an opportunity that got away because of a mistake that I made. We’ve learned that until they mathematically tell you you’re out, you still have just a good of shot as anybody. We’ll keep plugging away.”
PIT ROAD PERIL: The new grading at Kansas Speedway has changed the way drivers enter and leave pit road, and that could create some excitement during green-flag pit stops on Sunday.
The transitions are steeper than they were under the previous configuration, so drivers have spent part of practice getting a bearing on the angle they’ll take entering pit road.
They’ll also have to blend later on the straightaway when they get back on the track.
“It’s really hard to get on pit road. The tires are so hard,” Chase leader Brad Keselowski said. “It’s just one of the many challenges that a repaved track has, and one of those things you have to figure out. Whoever does that best will have an advantage.”