Filling in for the recuperating Trevor Bayne, Stenhouse started ninth, but he brushed the wall early on and dropped back in the running order, eventually falling off the lead lap.
But he and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew battled back and rejoined the lead group, running as high as fifth with 100 of the scheduled 400 laps remaining.
Jimmie Johnson’s blown engine with five laps to go set up a green-white-checkered-flag run to the finish. Stenhouse lined up 16th on the final restart and steered his way through a mad scramble to come home 11th.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Stenhouse and the Donnie Wingo-led crew worked on the car from the drop of the green flag, adjusting it to the changing conditions as the sun set and the track temperatures and characteristics changed.
But Wood and the team kept their confidence up because their car was performing so well.
“Once they got the car right, it was just a matter of time before we got back on the lead lap,” he said.
Wood also praised Wingo’s decision to pit for fuel and four tires before the final run to the checkered flag.
“There were other people who were on the same fuel strategy as we were, and it didn’t work out for them,” Wood said.
Despite making his Cup debut in NASCAR’s longest-ever race, 603 miles, Stenhouse didn’t appear any worse for the wear afterward.
“He hardly broke a sweat,” Wood said. “He looked as good when he got out of the car as he did when he got in it.
Stenhouse praised his crew for helping him get in position for a strong finish.
“I hit the wall a couple of times and then Donnie made a good call and got us to take the wave-around when we were two laps down,” Stenhouse said. “The caution came back out and it worked out great for us. After that, we just kept working away at it.
“Donnie definitely did a great job, and I’m just glad I got this opportunity.”
And Stenhouse, who has spent the bulk of his career running short races in sprint cars, said a 600-mile Sprint Cup wasn’t overly taxing, even after running a 300-mile Nationwide Series race the day before.
“It was everything I thought it would be,” he said. “The 600 miles didn’t seem too bad. I still feel pretty good, so that’s good. Our trainer at the shop must be working me out pretty good.”
The next race for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team and regular driver Trevor Bayne is on June 18 at Michigan International Speedway.