Austin Dillon celebrates his title. (LAT photo)
It was all in the restarts in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as both race winner Brad Keselowski and NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon accomplished their respective goals thanks to late-race charges.
After a restart with five laps left, Keselowski surged from 10th to the lead by lap 198 of 200, passing both Kyle Busch and race runner-up Kyle Larson to take over the top spot.
“That late-race restart was key,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “We came in and put tires on with 20 to go, and that yellow (for a four-car crash on lap 183) was out for [12 laps], and I didn’t think we were going to have a shot at it. But we got the right restart and made our way through. I’m going to have to watch the in-car camera, because that was one hell of a ride. Be glad there wasn’t a passenger with me, because they would have been screaming the whole way. I know I was.”
Dillon was simply screaming with joy after holding off Sam Hornish Jr. for the championship. Fighting a balky No. 3 Chevrolet for most of the night, Dillon finished 12th but kept Sam Hornish Jr. in his sights after two late restarts.
Hornish finished eighth, with 37 laps led, but lost the title to Dillon by three points. Dillon became the first driver to win the series championship without winning a race, thanks to season-long consistency.
“I was just glad to see the 12’s back bumper [after the final restart],” Dillon said. “I knew if I could see him and know where he was that I wasn’t going to give up till the end. I had a great start and tried to get the jump on him. It worked out.
“That’s all I can say. He was a great competitor, and he brought his stuff tonight, and we were able to capitalize at the end. Man, it was a hell of a race”
Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate, Joey Logano, gained six spots after the final restart to secure the owners’ championship for his No. 22 Penske Ford. The margin over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Kyle Busch? A single point.
With his fourth second-place finish of the season, Larson locked up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. His No. 32 Chevrolet, however, failed post-race inspection for being too low, the team’s second offense. Keselowski’s victory also secured the NNS manufacturers’ championship for Ford.
“It means a lot to me to win rookie of the year in the Nationwide Series,” Larson said. “A lot of veterans in the past and in the current Sprint Cup Series have won the rookie of the year. To add my name to that list hopefully means I’m doing something good.”
Larson will move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
For Keselowski, the victory capped a remarkable NASCAR Nationwide Series effort in 2013. The win was his seventh of the season but his first in the No. 48. Keselowski won his first six races in the No. 22 Logano drove on Saturday. The 2010 NNS champion, Keselowski notched his 27th victory in the series.