Smith wins, Stenhouse earns second series title

jutter@charlotteobserver.comNovember 17, 2012 

— Victory Lane was a mix of the present and future of the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday night.

Regan Smith, making his debut with JR Motorsports, held off Kyle Busch to win the Ford 300 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for his first series victory in 103 starts.

Smith will run full time with the organization next season and compete for the series championship.

“My team built me a heck of a race car and I’m excited about driving for these guys next year,” said Smith. “They worked hard all year long and we’re going to do the same next year – we’re going to contend for a championship.”

Smith began the season in the Sprint Cup Series driving for Furniture Row Motorsports before losing his ride late in the year. JRM hired him in October.

“I can’t wait to get to Daytona,” Smith said. “I wish we could start tomorrow,” Smith said.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. needed to finish 16th or better to guarantee a second consecutive series championship. He finished sixth.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into this and I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive it,” said Stenhouse, who finished the season with six wins – the most of any driver.

“We don’t ever give up. It doesn’t matter how beat up the car is. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, we keep our heads down and we dig as hard as we can.

“We’re a group of racers and that what racers do – they race hard.”

Stenhouse became the sixth driver to win consecutive championships in the series. The last to do so was Martin Truex Jr., who won titles in 2004 and 2005.

“It’s really neat to go back-to-back. It really makes me see how hard that No. 48 team works (in the Cup series). Five in a row is crazy,” Stenhouse said.

“It’s been a great two years and we’ve had a lot of fun.”

Brendan Gaughan finished third in the race, Sam Hornish Jr. was fourth and Austin Dillon was fifth. Stenhouse finished the year with a 23-point advantage over Elliott Sadler, who finished ninth in the race.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota team won the series’ owner’s championship using six different drivers this season. Joey Logano clinched the title with his 16th place finish on Saturday night.

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