Have you ever had something so crazy happen that you have a hard time formulating the words to describe the events that transpired? The 2023 Daytona 500 is definitely one of those events.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored the victory in what turned out to be a career-defining race for the 35-year-old racer. For years, the knock on Stenhouse within the industry was that his level of aggression was a tad too high. Well, on Sunday evening at Daytona International Speedway, the Mississippi native was the perfect mix of patient and aggressive.
Perhaps all of those times of stepping over the line helped Stenhouse know what it took to win on the sport's grandest stage.
"I feel like I've put myself in some bad spots, yeah, throughout my career," Stenhouse admitted. "But the faster we get our cars, the more I can take care of them and still run them close to the front. Something I've always tried to do, which is sometimes at an expense, is to try and take a car and try to get way more out of it than what is there. I feel like that's my job to do as a race car driver to get the most speed out of a race car that you can, but also in this sport you have to take care of it. You can't just leave it all out there every single race."
At the end of the day, the JTG Daugherty Racing team believes in Stenhouse. They always have. In fact, going into Sunday's race, crew chief Mike Kelley wrote a note and placed it in the car.
"I just wrote him a note that only he would see. It was on the rollbar right in front of him, and it just said, 'We believe,' and that's been our team's motto all offseason is that we believe," Kelley said. "We're a small team. We're not a super powerhouse team. We're small, I think there are 40-45 employees that work in our shop every day. But I have 45 people that believe in what we accomplish. We're trying to get people to believe in Ricky Stenhouse again. We're trying to get people to believe in myself and the vision that we have."
Stenhouse straddled the line of aggression perfectly, but behind the wheel, he wasn't perfect as he was busted for speeding on pit road on lap 179. But even that mistake proved to actually be the right move in the end.
"Once we sped on pit road, I kind of thought our race was over. But I felt like the good lord was watching out for us," Stenhouse explained. "I was serving the penalty and all of a sudden they had a big wreck right there kind of where we were running going into Turn 1. That gave us a second chance."
It was a career-defining night for Stenhouse, but it was also a high water mark for the JTG Daugherty Racing organization as well, which has clawed for a crown jewel victory for years.
Make no mistake, this is a battle. The competition in this series is fierce and it's serious. We are blessed to have the partners we have and the sponsors we have. But it's a battle. And it's hard.
"It's not for lack of effort. We've come really close, so I try not to get our hopes up," Geschickter explained. "Tonight, when we were close and it was the last lap and there was another caution, and I just think, 'Dear lord please, we need it. We need it. We need it and we need it now. We need it tonight, we need it to happen,' and it did."
While Stenhouse was able to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy for the first time in his 12th attempt, he had to defeat a Daytona 500 champion, Joey Logano, who nearly became a two-time Daytona 500 champion.
As Logano was battling Stenhouse for the lead on the last lap of the race, a crash erupted behind the battle for the win. As a result of the crash, the field was frozen, and after NASCAR review, Logano was just short of securing the victory.
While it wasn't a win, Logano scored his fourth-career top-five finish in The Great American Race.
Joe Gibbs Racing had a representative inside the top five as Christopher Bell was in third in the DeWalt / Rheem Toyota Camry and Chris Buscher and Alex Bowman rounded out the top-five finishers.
RELATED: 2023 Daytona 500 Race Results
It looked like Kyle Busch would finally score a Daytona 500 victory, as he rocketed to the lead with help from his teammate Austin Dillon with under five laps remaining in regulation. Unfortunately, for Busch, Daniel Suarez went for a spin on the front stretch with two laps remaining in the race.
This sent the Daytona 500 into overtime, which is where absolute chaos ensued.
By the time the checkered flag was finally displayed after a couple of overtime attempts, Busch was scored as the 19th-place finisher and his No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro went home on the hook of the tow truck.
While the finish was absolute insanity, the overall Daytona 500 was an exciting spectacle. The race featured a total of 52 lead changes and 21 of the race's 40 drivers led at least one lap on the day.
Just over half of the field (23 cars) were running at the finish of the event.
Photo Credit: Craig White / TobyChristie.com