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 with 87.
"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 -- eight wins."
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