If you were going to script how you would want a season finale to finish, you would have drivers giving it their all doing everything they could to take home the taste of victory. Well, someone call Hollywood because that was the case in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With five laps remaining, it was down to race leader Brad Keselowksi and Carl Edwards battling for the final win in 2011. Nearing ever so close to the back bumper of Keselowski’s Dodge, Edwards saw his shot to win with two laps to-go. Through turn two, Edwards was all over the back of Keselowksi, making slight contact with the back bumper forcing the two drivers to get ‘out of shape’.
As the two slipped on the twenty degree banks, it allowed 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to close right up on the two. Darting underneath Edwards going down the back, Stenhouse saw his opportunity for the race win, possibly his third on his championship campaign.
As the white flag flew down upon Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was now a three driver race. Keselowksi, Stenhouse Jr. and Edwards, nose to tail around the 1.5 mile speedway. With a huge head of steam, Stenhouse pulled to the outside of Keselowski through turn three, looking more like a classic ‘Darlington finish’ than we would normally see at Homestead.
Driving with all his might, Stenhouse got loose, trying desperately to keep the car off the wall, he lost touch with leader Keselowski as he went on to win Saturday’s Ford 300. “This Dodge had power I tell you,” said Keselowski in victory lane. “I was blocking as hard as I could to win that race.”
It was the first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 2010 Nationwide Series champion. It was also the seventeenth victory of his career for the Rochester Hills,Mich. native who won the race from the pole. “Great year for the team. To get on the pole and win the race is just a great night for the entire Discount Tire Dodge team. It’s a great way to end the year.
Stenhouse Jr and his No.6 Roush Fenway Racing team had two goals coming into the night; 1) Clinch the series championship. 2) Go out and win the race. They only accomplished one of the two goals, but oh how sweet that first one tastes. “I was giving it all I had,” said the champion, Stenhouse.”It was really fun racing Carl(Edwards) and Brad(Keselowski) and those guys.”
After celebrating his championship with teammate, Carl Edwards, on the front stretch by doing a ‘dual burnout’ performance for the fans, Stenhouse Jr. reflected on his championship run in 2011. “This is a dream come true,” he said. “We were down in the dumps and we relied on God that pulled as through and that’s why we’re on top. Just a lot of hard work by all these guys, I can’t thank them enough. They didn’t give up on me, they were with us through all of last year, and just glad to be here.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s father gave up his dreams of racing after he realized making his son’s dreams come true was all he wanted, saw the fruits of his labor and sacrifice pay of tonight in Miami. “My family sacrificed everything”, he said. “My sister didn’t get quite everything that she wanted. We were racing as much as we could. He (Ricky’s dad) told me hard work and to never give up.”
“I wish my granddad was here, he helped us out of lot through the karting days,” Stenhouse said as he began to get emotional. “Wish he was here but, it’s just an awesome night.”
It was not only an awesome night for Stenhouse Jr. as he picked up his first NASCAR championship, but also for Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards may not have been able to get the win, but he was able to pick up the owner’s championship for Jack Roush and his No. 60 team. “My guys did a great job all year,” said Edwards after the race. “Eight wins, and we wrapped up the owner’s championship. That’s huge.”
Not to be overlooked, 18-year-old Timmy Hill of Maryland took home the Rookie of the Year honors for 2011. The very same honors that Stenhouse Jr. claimed in 2010. “I got to thank all these guys behind me,” Hill said. “What a great group of guys, they got me here. I just a great weekend for us to do it, it came down to one point. It can’t be anymore exciting than that. It’s just a great day.”
When the season began back in Daytona, many people wondered if the new points structure which granted Nationwide only drivers the chance to compete for a title would give us a ‘true champion’. After the crazy race in Homestead, I think it’s safe to say, yes, indeed we do have ourselves a true champion before our eyes.