Stenhouse Jr. captures Nationwide title at Homestead|
Homestead, FL (Sports Network) - After almost losing his ride with Roush
Fenway Racing in the middle of the 2010 season, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. became the
newest champion in the Nationwide Series with a second-place finish in the
season-ending Ford 300 on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stenhouse concluded his 2011 title season with a 45-point margin over Elliott
Sadler, who finished sixth. The 24-year-old driver entered the race with a 41-
point lead over Sadler, and a finish of 37th or better guaranteed him the
championship. Stenhouse officially wrapped up the title after six "start and
park" drivers were listed as out of the race by lap 32.
"This crew [No.6 team] did not give up on me, and they were with me through
all of last year," said Stenhouse, who won the championship with two wins and
26 top-10 finishes this season. "I'm just glad to be here."
Last year, Stenhouse struggled in the early part of his first full season in
NASCAR's second-tier series but rebounded later in the season to win rookie
honors in the series.
He also became the first series-only champion since Martin Truex Jr. in 2005.
Prior to the start of this season, NASCAR adopted a rule that prevented any
driver to compete for more than one championship in its three national touring
series. Therefore, Sprint Cup Series regulars were not eligible. A Sprint Cup
driver had won the Nationwide title the past five years.
Brad Keselowski, the 2010 Nationwide champion, won the 300-mile race at
Homestead. Keselowski passed Carl Edwards for the lead just after the final
restart with seven laps to go. He then held off Stenhouse and Edwards to claim
his fifth win of the season and the 17th of his Nationwide career.
"Right there at the end, we had the power to pull away at the restart but not
the handling to stay in front of them, so I was blocking as hard as I could to
win this race," Keselowski said. "I want to congratulate Ricky. I know what
it's like to be over there and be a champion, and that's an amazing feeling."
Stenhouse passed his Roush Fenway teammate Edwards for the second position
with less than two laps to go and then finished 0.3 seconds behind Keselowski.
"I was really hoping for one more lap there, but Brad did a good job,"
Stenhouse said. "It was fun racing Carl and those guys. I got a little loose
there coming off of [turn] four."
Edwards' third-place finish coupled with a fifth-place run for Denny Hamlin
allowed Roush Fenway's No. 60 team to clinch the owner's championship by just
three-points over Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 team. Edwards led the most laps
"Ricky has come so far, and I think he's going to be a champion at a bunch of
levels in this sport," Edwards said. "My guys did a great job all year --
Clint Bowyer finished fourth.
After the race concluded, Edwards and Stenhouse did a celebratory burnout with
the front end of their cars touching.
Earlier in the day, Edwards won the pole position for Sunday's 400-mile
season-finale in the Sprint Cup Series. Edwards enters that race with just a
three-point lead over Tony Stewart, who will start 15th.
"We've had a great year, but we got a little bit more work to do tomorrow,"
team owner Jack Roush said.
Sadler bounced back after receiving two penalties for pit road violations. He
had a missing lug nut from an early-race pit stop under caution. Sadler was
also caught speeding off of pit road during another caution in the mid-stages
of the race.
"With that lug nut one time and my speeding penalty, I shouldn't do that. I've
been racing long enough to know that you shouldn't do that."
Sadler was a pre-season favorite to win this year's Nationwide championship.
11/19 21:21:29 ET