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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.




Related Pictures

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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)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, and Michael Annett, driver of the #7 Allstate Peterbilt/Pilot Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford takes the chequered flag to win the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, drives the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford during the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field at the start of the Nationwide Childrens`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Regan Smith prepares to stand in for Tony Stewart at short notice at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 10 2014. (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #09 Stanley Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 9, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #09 Stanley Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 9, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #09 Stanley Ford, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 9, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
The #28 Texas 28 Spirits Stage Dodge, driven by JJ Yeley, is seen after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 9, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #12 Snap-On Ford, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 9, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Nelson Piquet Jr., driver of the #77 WORX Ford, prepares his equipment in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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