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Nationwide: Stenhouse wins back-to-back titles

Sadler was battling side-by-side with Stenhouse to retain fourth place when the yellows came out again for a fifth caution on lap 180 after Joey Logano tipped Johanna Long into a spin that sent her into a hard nose-first impact against the inside wall on the backstretch. There was no time for a the luxury of a further pit stop at this point of proceedings: the die was cast and everyone grimly prepared for the final run to the finish line.

The restart was a case of deja vu all over again: Smith leapt away at the front, Dillon spun his wheels and fell back, Sadler looked initially strong but then soon fell off the pace as he wrestled with his "absolutely junk" car, and that allowed Kyle Busch to take second spot ahead of Gaughan and Hornish. With no further interruptions to the race before the chequered flag, that was how the race finished - a famous return to Nationwide service for Smith, who had never won a Nationwide race in his previous 102 appearances in the championship up to July 2007.

"It's definitely a good start," said Smith, who admitted that the series had changed a lot in his absence. "These guys worked hard all year long, and we're going to do the same next year and contend for a championship.

"That's our plan. Hopefully, tonight was part of a statement right there," he added. "It kind of sucks that we have to wait two months. I�d like to get started now!"

He'd been happy with the #5 right from the green flag, he revealed. "It didn't hurt that I had a fast race car from the start, so I didn't have to worry about a lot of things. We made a lot of changes and tried a lot of stuff, but, at the same time, that balance was always there pretty close."

Smith was joined in the celebrations by JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., after the team's first Nationwide win since Jamie McMurray made it to victory lane in Atlanta in September 2010. Another of the team's driver line-up, Danica Patrick, also achieved a little slice of history by finishing in tenth place in the Nationwide standings, the best championship showing for a female driver in any of NASCAR's three national series.

But it was another disappointing near-miss in a season full of frustration for Busch, who ended 2012 without a Nationwide win to his name for his new Kyle Busch Motorsports team. It's the first time in eight consecutive seasons that Busch has gone winless, although in mitigation he had cut back on the number of races he ran in 2012 after opting to share the #54 car with his brother Kurt.

Even so, "It's a huge disappointment," admitted Kyle. "I think it's been well documented that this has been the absolute worst year of my career bar none ... I can't seem to put it all together when it matters, and you have to in this sport, otherwise you'll be kind of shown the door."

But what of of the title battle? Following the restart, Ricky Stenhouse stumbled into a succession of fraught battles with a gaggle of slow traffic that brought him within inches of disaster. His crew chief was on the radio, imploring him not to fight battles that he did not need to that could mean risking crashing out and handing the title to Sadler or Dillon.

"I don't ride around," Stenhouse said, who at one point even held down his radio transmit button in order to drown out the instructions from pit lane. "That's not how we got in this position."




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)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, lead the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Derrike Cope, driver of the #70 youtheory Chevrolet, and Jamie Dick, driver of the #55 VIVA Auto Group Chevrolet, spin out after an incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS finished in 2nd place and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished in 26th place Sunday, September 21, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Gordon is in the Chase which continues in next week`s Challenger 16 race. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, drives with damage to his car after crashing during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 21, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 21, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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