Kenseth returns to victory lane, Penske wins owner’s title

Matt Kenseth muscled the lead away from Kyle Larson on the final green-white-checkered restart to win Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300.  Kenseth started to drive away from everyone before a late caution bunched up the field with six laps to go at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kenseth hasn’t been in victory lane since the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) race at Kansas Speedway last season and getting out in front after the final caution Saturday night sealed the victory.

“We kept getting those restarts at the end of the race and the first couple got away okay,” Kenseth said.  “We had a really good car tonight, especially on the short-to-mid range run and kind of fell into our hands and worked out and had the speed on the front-side of the run when we needed it.”

It was also the first NNS win for crew chief Kevin Kidd since Kansas in Oct. 2010 and his last race on the pit box for the No. 20 car.

“It’s a great victory for us as a team,” Kidd said.  “The core group of our team, we’ve been together for about five years, it’s been a little bit of a dry spell.  I’m really happy to see a lot of those guys in victory lane, some for the first time.”

Larson dominated the race by leading 111 of the 205 laps on the night.  The No. 42 car was good on the short run and the 22-year-old driver took advantage of clean air out in front. He took the inside lane on the final restart of the race, and thought the No. 12 of Ryan Blaney had been getting good restarts.

“I wanted to start in front of him,” Larson added.  “Spun my tires a little bit and the 20 was able to hang with me there and I was side-drafting him (Kenseth) on the front stretch and then I spun my tires into (Turn) 1 and got me sideways.”

Speaking of another Kyle, Busch brought the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry home in second, edging Larson at the line by .034 seconds.  Busch proved to have a good car on the longer runs, but not so much on the short run.  The 2009 NNS champ scored seven victories in 2014, the least number of wins on a NNS season since joining Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 2008. 

The JGR organization also won 10 times on the season, including one each from Sam Hornish, Jr., Elliott Sadler and Kenseth.

Although it was a valiant effort by the No. 54 team, Penske Racing secured back-to-back owner’s championships in NNS with the No. 22 team.  Crew chief Jeremy Bullins led the team with five different drivers and resulted in five wins with Brad Keselowski (four) and Ryan Blaney (one).  Joey Logano, Alex Tagliani and Michael McDowell also drove the car at one point this season.  Bullins noted the importance of winning the owner’s title.

“I think what gets lost with the owner’s championship is that it’s a team championship,” he said.  “No matter who drove or who worked the car, all that kind of thing.”

The No. 22 and No. 54 teams have finished 1-2 in the owner’s standings the last two seasons and both teams combined to win 13 of 35 races in 2014.

Penske Racing ran two cars in the Ford EcoBoost 300 with the regular No. 22 car, as well as No. 12 car, which ran sporadically with Ryan Blaney and Cup driver Joey Logano throughout the season.  Blaney brought home the No. 12 Discount Tire Ford in fourth, with Roush-Fenway Racing rookie driver Chris Buescher finishing fifth.

Keselowski drove the No. 22 machine in place of Logano, who will focus on winning the Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday. 

Jeremy Clements, Ross Chastain and T.J. Bell all scored top-15 finishes, with a 15th-place showing being Bell’s best-career finish in the series.

JR Motorsports secured a 1-2 points finish, as Regan Smith’s sixth-place showing was enough to retain second place in points behind his teammate Chase Elliott.  Smith finished 42 points behind the 18-year-old.  Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott were both 65 points behind champion Elliott for the third position, but Sadler owns the tie-breaker with his victory at Talladega in May.  Rookie Ty Dillon will take home fifth in points and one win in his first season in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

Roush-Fenway Racing (RFR) drivers Trevor Bayne and Chris Buescher finished sixth and seventh in points, respectively, with Buescher scoring the only win for the RFR organization at Mid-Ohio in August.  Ryan Reed made it all three RFR cars finishing Top 10 in points.

Brendan Gaughan, Reed and James Buescher, in his first season with RAB Racing rounded out Top 10 in points.  Along with winning the championship, Chase Elliott also picked up NNS Rookie of the Year honors. 

As for Nationwide, it was the series’ last race Saturday night at Homestead, before Comcast Xfinity takes over sponsorship of NASCAR’s second-tier series in 2015.  Cup drivers bookended the first and final wins in the Nationwide Series, with Tony Stewart winning at Daytona in Feb. 2008 and Matt Kenseth winning Saturday night.




Kyle Magda