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Nationwide: Stenhouse victorious over Menard

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard battled over victory in Friday night's Nationwide Series race, with the reigning champion holding on during the final restart.
Between them, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard led for over two-thirds of the entire 200-lap race distance in Friday's night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 under the floodlights at Texas Motor Speedway, so it was only fitting that in the end, the battle for the lead came down to a final sprint to the line for the two of them after a late final caution.

"One thing that I do enjoy about this is that we're running up front every week," said reigning series champion Stenhouse. "We have a shot to win every week, and that's all we can do, and when we can finish it off like that, it's a positive."

Menard had started from pole position but lost the lead to Stenhouse on lap 4, with the reigning series champion then retaining the top spot and pulling out a big lead through to the first caution of the evening for debris on lap 45. A problem with a right front tyre saw Stenhouse slip back to sixth place for the restart - behind Menard, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler.

Menard was able to hold off a surge from Kahne at the green flag to keep the lead through to the next caution, which was triggered by a spin by Brad Keselowski in turn 4 on lap 90. The restart attempt a few laps later saw Blake Kock spin out of turn 2 and hit the inside wall after being tagged by Kurt Busch, immediately putting the race back under yellow for the third time of the evening. The caution period was longer than anticipated, after a bank of floodlights around turn 3 briefly failed.

Racing was under way again on lap 103, with the running order reshuffled by cautions and pit stops to leave Denny Hamlin ahead of Stenhouse, Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Menard. But Stenhouse suffered a poor restart and fell back dramatically before gathering it back together, giving Menard the opportunity to shoot down the inside line and mount a three-wide battle for the lead with Hamlin and Sadler.

Menard won that battle, and Stenhouse quickly dealt with his restart gremlins to bounce back into second place once more with Sadler a fair way back in third. As the race reached three-quarter distance the field started to cycle through a green flag pit stop sequence that could conceivably see them through to the end without the need for another visit to pit lane if they conserved fuel, after which Menard's lead over Stenhouse was 1.8 seconds with Sadler, Kahne and Austin Dillon filling out the top five.

The action was rudely interrupted on lap 162, however, when the turn 3 lights failed for the second time that night. The race was briefly red-flagged to allow technicians to investigate the problem and change circuit breakers, and everyone took the opportunity to pit again after all to ensure fuel and worn tyres didn't become deciding factors in the result. Racing resumed ten minutes later with Austin Dillon and David Ragan in the lead having gambled on not coming back to pit road for tyres or fuel; Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kasey Kahne followed them taking the green flag on lap 172.

Once again it was the ongoing duel between Menard and Stenhouse that caught the attention at the restart as they battled side-by-side for second: Stenhouse won this round, and was rewarded by a prompt opportunity to take the lead on lap 176 when Austin Dillon twitched coming out of turn 2 on his older tyres. Stenhouse needed no second invitation and nipped through to the front, with Menard following his cue past the rookie to take second.

There would be one final caution on lap 186 when Kurt Busch's engine expired in clouds of smoke, leaving Stenhouse to manage the restart with just six laps to go. It was a fierce battle at the green flag with Stenhouse, Menard and Denny Hamlin going three-wide for the lead out of which Stenhouse somehow managed to come out with the prize, while Menard took longer to clear Hamlin for second and the critical delay allowed Stenhouse to pull out several car lengths over them both which was sufficient to give him a 1.4s lead by the chequered flag.




Related Pictures

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FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 13: Blake Koch, driver of the #15 Rick Ware Racing Ford, hits the wall as cars race during the NASCAR Nationwide Series O`Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 13: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 Pure Michigan Ford, takes the chequered flag as he crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series O`Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Taxslayer.com Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 DOW Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet, Brian Vickers, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Nature`s Bakery Chevrolet, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brian Scott. (Picture Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, talks to Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, on the grid during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for thirteenth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick will be joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Truex, Jr. will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday will be Gordon`s last race as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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