Not only did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And whether the label was fair or not, the "Danica's boyfriend" perception is no more. The princess of auto racing had finally found her prince charming, mullet and all. Several other drivers beat Hamlin off pit road by taking fuel only. He was an accessory.
Some of the fan enthusiasm is likely fueled by the presence of two time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, who will drive a McLaren-sponsored auto for Michael Andretti's team.
He was, for the first few years, the man on Danica's arm.
Stenhouse, Jr. became the 11th driver to win his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the mammoth 2.66-mile venue. He attempted to side-draft Stenhouse but didn't have enough people pushing him to make the difference.
Now Stenhouse is a Monster Energy Cup Series victor, and it was his famous girlfriend who was there to greet him Sunday when he pulled into victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway.
With a last-lap pass in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Stenhouse collected his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in his 158th start and delivered the first win for Roush Fenway Racing since Carl Edwards triumphed at Sonoma in June 2014, a span of 101 races.
Ricky Stenhouse Sr. needed a police escort. "We were side drafting each other like insane, so that was one heck of a race and I'm glad we came out on top".
The moment, for once, belonged to Stenhouse.
"We've been bad for a long time, but we've been getting better and better every race", said Stenhouse, who took time to note he "parked it" in victory lane for his late friend, Bryan Clauson.
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"She's been so supportive and knows how hard that I've worked, and to have her there was really awesome". She doesn't mind being known as my girlfriend. "If we put our most effort in every single truck we put out there, and we all do our jobs, and we go out there and compete and win".
Racing for the penultimate time at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the star of the show but a loose wheel denied him a chance to win the GEICO 500.
NASCAR was there to celebrate with the couple, Stenhouse the latest new face to win in a series undergoing a serious changing of the guard. Through 10 races this year, only Truex of sister team Furniture Row Racing has a victory in the Gibbs' column.
Thus far, through 10 races the results indicate Roush is at least on the path to recapturing its past glory, which includes consecutive Cup championships (2003-2004), and filling out half of the 10-driver playoff field in 2005.
Trevor Bayne is 16th in the standings.
And whenever Stenhouse and the No. 17 team make their next trip to victory lane, something that seems increasingly likely given the team's improved performance, Stenhouse's father will be a little more familiar with the route.
"I think it means everything for us", team President Steve Newmark said. Stenhouse dominated early and drove back to the front despite being shuffled back in the pack mid-race. He became the first driver to win from the pole at Talladega since Jeff Gordon in 2007 and snapped almost a three-year winless streak for team owner Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing.
Still, he had won a pair of Xfinity titles with Roush and he had faith the team could win again. "This year, every race, we're just getting better and better". We're on some of them's radar screen. Until then, driver and team can relish in an accomplishment they wondered if it would ever happen.
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