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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Junior went to victory lane at a restrictor-plate race again.
Just like last time, though, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrating after the checkered flag.
Stenhouse raced to his second victory of the season — second consecutive on a restrictor-plate track — Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. Both events were billed as showcases for retiring driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Stenhouse stole both shows.
Stenhouse picked up his first career NACAR Cup Series win in May at Talladega. Just like last time, girlfriend Danica Patrick was there to greet him in victory lane — she had wrecked out shortly before and was the first person at his car window when he pulled in to celebrate.
‘‘It validates what we did in Talladega,’’ Stenhouse said.
He earned this one for Roush Fenway Racing in a two-lap overtime sprint when leader David Ragan tried to block the field and lost momentum. Stenhouse squirted by and held on for the victory.
Clint Bowyer was second for the second consecutive week.
‘‘This bridesmaid deal sucks. I want to win. We’re in this business to win,’’ said Bowyer. ‘‘But second is better than third.’’
Bowyer joined Stenhouse to give Ford Performance a 1-2 finish for the manufacturer and engine builder Doug Yates. Ford also won all three plate races this season.
Paul Menard was third, followed by Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, and Ragan.
The race was allegedly the final one at Daytona for Earnhardt. But he opens the door wider and wider every time he speaks about racing in the future, and winning the pole for Saturday night made him eligible for an exhibition race next February.
It set the stage for what felt like an Earnhardt kind of night, but he was forced into the wall riding in traffic early in the second stage and it seemed to end the feel-good story.
But Earnhardt worked his way back inside the top 10 and was sixth and pushing hard, demanding on his radio to know who was in front of Kevin Harvick, when he hooked Harvick to trigger a multi-car crash. Harvick said he got a flat tire right before the contact.
Earnhardt’s night was over, and he headed to the garage and a 32nd-place finish.
‘‘It’s been a wild night,’’ Earnhardt said. ‘‘I didn’t anticipate this much action and this much torn up sheet metal.’’
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