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Nationwide: Stenhouse wins back-to-back titles

Regan Smith won the Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR Nationwide season finale on Saturday in his first series outing in five years, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clinched the 2012 title.
It was a tense finish to the 2012 season for the three drivers still in the running for the Nationwide Series championship, and the tension and sheer exhaustion of the effort certainly told on the crew and driver of the #6 Ford - or maybe they were just a little overwhelmed by their achievement, as they successfully completed their bid for a rare second consecutive Nationwide title.

Whatever the cause, it led to a strangely subdued atmosphere in victory lane after the deed was accomplished - but there were plenty of high spirits and celebrations elsewhere on pit road, as JR Motorsports celebrated a return to winning ways for both themselves and their new regular series driver Regan Smith.

Polesitter Kyle Busch had looked to be in control of the race early on as he led the field to the green flag shortly before 5pm under the setting sun at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He maintained the lead into turn 1 with Elliott Sadler holding on to second place ahead of fellow title contenders Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon. Sadler wasn't content riding shotgun, but his bid for the lead on lap 8 ended up with a crossover counterattack by Busch that put the #51 back in front before Sadler could even collect a point for leading at the line. After that close encounter, Busch decided it was time to build up a big comfort margin by moving smartly away from his title-fixated pursuers.

With fully a third of field consisting of first time competitors in a Nationwide Series race at Homestead, by lap 25 only 28 cars were still on the lead lap thanks to Busch's sustained charge at the front and the backmarker traffic was already becoming a problem. Sadler was now a full five seconds in arrears, and for him the even worse news was that reality that Stenhouse was clamped to the rear bumper of the #2 making it impossible for Sadler to do anything about overhauling the Roush Fenway Racing driver's 20pt lead in the standings.

Behind them, Austin Dillon had been ousted from fourth place by Regan Smith, who was competing in his first outing in the JR Motorsports #5 car that will be his regular ride in Nationwide in 2013 after five years away from the series. Behind Dillon in sixth place was Sam Hornish Jr., himself newly confirmed as returning full-time to the Penske Racing team in the #22 next season.

After 48 laps and half an hour of green flag running, Danica Patrick was the first of the cars on the lead lap to pit from 16th place, after which there was a flood of other takers for fresh tyres and fuel including the race leader on lap 50, which precipitated the first lead change of the day as Joey Logano briefly took over at the front for a solitary turn at the front.

Busch was back at the front once the pit stop sequence was complete, ahead of Smith, Sadler, Stenhouse, Hornish and Brian Scott, with Austin Dillon having dropped to seventh place as the Richard Childress Racing team chased the cooling conditions with set-up changes to make the #3 more to his liking as daylight gave way to floodlight.

The race had completed the first third of the 200-lap race distance with no incidents or cautions, and Busch still in the lead by nine seconds, when the first caution of the day came out on lap 66. It was for Ryan Truex, who had lost control of the #20 after skimming off the wall and overcorrecting in his efforts to save it.

The caution gave the drivers a chance for a more leisurely return to pit road under yellow. Sadler opted to stay out, while Busch and Smith both opted to take a full set of new tyres, and as a result they lost positions to those who just came in for fuel. At the restart, Sadler and Stenhouse were on front of Busch and Dillon, with Ryan Blaney ahead of Smith, Logano and Danica Patrick who was up to eighth.




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Regan Smith, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag as he crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Elliott Sadler, driver of the #2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet, leads Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 Cargill Ford, during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (L), driver of the #6 Cargill Ford, shakes hands with NASCAR President Mike Helton (R) in Champions Victory Lane after winning the series championship and finishing sixth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Regan Smith (R), driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, poses with Cup Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr (L). and crew chief Steve Letarte (C) in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Regan Smith, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished 7th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Earnhardt Jr. is 4th, Gordon is 1st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS won. (Photo Credit: HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished 1st, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS finished 37th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick  is 22nd, Kahne is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd.(Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Tami Kelly-Pope for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford tangle during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field to start the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, crashes early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The Air-Titan runs on track prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Ford EcoBoost Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet, leads Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 GameStop Toyota, at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series O`Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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