Friday night’s Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, all Austin Dillon had to do was finish in the sixteenth position and he would claim his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Regardless of what anyone else did, the championship would go to Dillon.
Starting the night off in the fifth position, Dillon kept his championship rivals, Johnny Sauter and James Buescher, in his gun sights as they started fourth and first respectively. Falling back early, Dillon appeared to be doing just as a veteran racer would do; save his truck for the end, ensuring that he would have something to contend with when it was time to go. While Dillon was ‘riding around’ however, the race picked up around him, with Buescher leading the race.
But the night would eventually play out for Buescher just as the past few races have for him. Ending with disappointment.
Contact with Kevin Harvick on an early race restart lit a fire underneath Harvick as Buescher would soon find out. As Buescher came down pit road for his green flag stop, Harvick caught the No.31 of Buescher. Running him down the track, the two touched, and Harvick went spinning off the nose of Buescher, almost ruining any chance for the win.
In the meantime, Sauter had taken the race lead, not to mention growing it to over four seconds as the race began to wind down. And just as Sauter began to look as though he was going to win the race, Dillon began to have problems.
Falling back to the fourteenth position, suspecting a problem with his truck, Dillon’s potential championship run was suddenly filled with possible doubt. But as they say, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’ This was exactly the case for Dillon as the problems seemed to go away, and Dillon put his truck back into the top ten.
As reports of rain began to surface, the battle for the lead began to heat up. Now a three truck race between Sauter, Hamlin and Harvick, the race hit it’s closing stages. With seventeen laps to go, Hamlin got a run to the outside of Sauter heading into turn three. Drawing along-side, rain began to fall from the sky as the trucks of Sauter and Hamlin slid up the banks, with Hamlin putting his Toyota into the wall. “IT’S RAINING!” Sauter screamed on his radio. The caution soon flew, as did the red after the track had appeared to be lost.
Quickly after the trucks were called to pit road, the race was called. Sauter was declared the winner and Dillon was crowned the champion. “Really!?” Sauter said as he got the news. “I’ve never won two NASCAR races in one season. That’s pretty cool.”
Sauter, who did about all he could do tonight to win the championship. Coming in 20 points behind Dillon, he knew it was a ‘long shot’ for him to bring home the championship. “This is how we needed to go out,” Sauter said in victory lane. “We led the most laps and eventually won the race. It was going to be a very interesting last couple laps if the rain didn’t come but I was prepared to do whatever I could.”
When Dillon got the news that he was champion, there was no containing his emotion. Jumping around, hugging his crew members and hollering like a mad man, Dillon was showing the true raw emotion of a driver who had just won his first big-time championship. “This is the best day of my life,” said an elated Dillon. “It’s just a dream come true.”
Dillon, who breaks 2003 champion Travis Kvapil’s record of being the youngest champion in series history at the ripe-old age of a 21-year-old. “It’s just fantastic,” said team owner, importantly, grandfather Richard Childress. “To win a championship and watch how much hard work these guys put into it all year, I couldn’t be prouder. “To see the No. 3 back in the championship circle, it’s a great year for RCR.”
With younger brother Ty winning the ARCA championship earlier this season, it caps off an incredible year for the Dillon/Childress family. Not to mention, teammate Joey Coulter winning the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.
“I got to thank everyone on this team,” said the 2011 champion, Austin Dillon. “These guys just work so hard, it means so much to win a championship with these guys behind me. ” Dillon, who will move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012 for this grandfather, will see his younger brother Ty take over the wheel of his championship winning truck.
“Two championships for the Dillon brothers in 2011,” said little brother, Ty. “Just a great year for both of us. I couldn’t be prouder of my brother here.”
As the door opens for the bright careers of the Dillon brothers, they also close on one of the most successful teams in Truck Series history. In his final race for his self-owned team, Kevin Harvick accepted the 2011 owners championship trophy for his No. 2 Kevin Harvick Incorporated Chevrolet.
“It’s been quite a run,” Harvick said on the championship stage with wife Delana close by.” I think we’ve won 43 races. Just to be able to compete in the series as we have for ten years says a lot about everyone on this team.” Harvick, who started his team because of his pure desire to win a truck race, wound up building one of most successful programs in all of NASCAR in the past decade.
“From the win in 2001, to Hornaday’s championships (2007 and 2009) it says a lot.”
With the way everything played out over the course of the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, the finish Friday night in Homestead-Miami further proves that truly anything, and everything can and will happen.