Stenhouse Jr. Is Your Nationwide Series Champion
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Ricky Stenhouse finished second in the Ford 300 season-ending NASCAR Nationwide race Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and that was plenty good enough to secure him the 2011 series championship.
Had the race gone another lap, he might have capped off his championship-securing run with a race victory.
Instead, Brad Keselowski held Stenhouse off coming out of the final turn and got the victory.
“This is a dream come true,” Stenhouse said, choking back tears.
The final margin of victory for Keselowski over Stenhouse was .26 seconds.
“This Dodge has some power,” Keselowski said of his Penske Racing Challenger.
Stenhouse’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, finished third, giving Ford two spots on the podium.
Clint Bowyer finished third in the final race for his team, Kevin Harvick Inc.
Denny Hamlin finished fifth Saturday.
Rounding out the top 10 were Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr., Aric Almirola, Brian Scott and Joey Logano.
Stenhouse, 24, clinched his championship long before the checkered flag waved. When the number of
cars retired from the race reached six on Lap 28 of 200, Stenhouse was guaranteed the 37th-place finish he needed to lock up the title.
But after sundown, things got interesting for fans and teas.
After the sixth caution, for Steve Wallace’s spin in Turn 1, Stenhouse passed fourth-place finisher Clint Bowyer for the lead on Lap 155 and began to pull away. But teammate Trevor Bayne scraped with the wall and cut his right rear tire to put the field under yellow again on Lap 174.
Pit stops under caution shuffled the field, and a problem with lug nuts on the right rear tire dropped Edwards back to sixth. Moments after a restart on Lap 180, however, Edwards rocketed into second place and went on to secure the owners’ championship for the No. 60 Ford.
Keselowski grabbed the lead on that same restart and stayed out front until Reed Sorenson’s spin in Turn 2 slowed the field for the eighth time.
Edwards passed Keselowski for the top spot on a Lap 187 restart, but the race didn’t stay green for long.
Separate incidents on Lap 188 involving Danica Patrick and Kenny Wallace brought out the ninth caution, and Edwards led the field back to green on Lap 194.
Keselowski grabbed the lead and then had to hold off Stenhouse, who made it all the way to his rear bumper.
“This race track is one of my favorites,” Stenhouse said. “I wish we came here twice at least. Last year was the first year here. I had a lot of fun and this is just my style of race track. You can drive it in hard, let it slide up to the wall and get back in the gas and really hang it out, it just reminds me a lot of sprint car racing. Last year, we finished fourth and ran really strong and this year we just came up one spot short and maybe one corner short, but, man, it was fun racing those guys.
“We were sideways, turning right, trying to keep it off the fence, getting into the fence every now and then, and to race up there with Carl, Brad, Denny, Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, they’re some of the best in the business and to be up there racing with them is fun.”
Stenhouse’s championship comes a year after he had a lot more crashes than victories. Many, including Stenhouse himself, thought his job might be in danger and that he might not be back in a Roush car for 2011.
But team co-owner Jack Roush stood by Stenhouse and kept him in the No. 6 Ford.
“Ricky was extraordinarily talented,” Roush said Saturday evening. “Every challenge we gave him with a new race track or problem with a car as we changed the car Ricky was bright and quick and talented in meeting those challenges. The thing that was always there when you would reach a situation when it was clear that you could go down this or that path and Mike Beam or Mike Kelley or myself decided to go down a certain path Ricky always went along with it. He never called his dad for support and said we were being to hard on him, he just went along with the program.
“That is what a rookie needs to do. He needs to go with the program with the people looking after him and our group had his interests in mind. The other thing was that he was just driven to be competitive to the extent of self destruction to start with. It is much easier to temper that and deal with that that it is for someone that doesn’t want it as bad as those next to them. They couldn’t realize the ultimate prize. Ricky wanted it bad and he raised himself to be a race car driver. This was his opportunity and he tried to hang on to it too tight to start with and couldn’t realize the success there for him but very quickly we got over that.”
The victory for Keselowski was his fifth of the season.
It came from the pole and it came a year after he won the NNS championship at Homestead.
“It’s been up-and-down year on all sides, whether the Cup or Nationwide side,” he said. “We finished this year strong with a win and sitting on the pole today. We had a very fast Dodge today in qualifying. There were a couple moments that we struggled in the race. We worked on it and didn’t spend a lot of time whining about it. Carl (Edwards) definitely put up a good fight. It was going to come down to the last restart. I really thought that once I had him cleared that I could drive away with the clean air, but I got to pushing really bad and (he) was able catch up. From there, it was going to be a dogfight. He fought hard and I fought hard. We were able to come out on top.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment