Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a champion once again. After a few near misses in the Ford EcoBoost 300, Stenhouse was able to finish in the sixth position to lock up his second consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series title. He is the sixth driver in Nationwide Series history to win back-to-back championships and the first to do it since Martin Truex Jr. in 2004 and 2005.
Stenhouse won the driver’s championship by 23 markers over Elliott Sadler who led the points standings for 26 weeks and had the championship lead until his title hopes were crushed after a late race incident at Phoenix just one week prior to the championship weekend.
“It’s way more disappointing this year because we had control of the points the entire season. This was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had. I’ve had great support from One Main (Financial), Coca-Cola, Hunt Brothers (Pizza) and the entire time,” Sadler said who will likely race for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.
Joe Gibbs Racing was able to celebrate as well. The team won the owners championship with the No. 18 team which was guided by Joey Logano for the majority of the season with the addition of Michael McDowell, Drew Herring, Ryan Truex, Mark Martin, and Denny Hamlin. The Gibbs team won the owners championship from 2008 until 2010 as they dominated Nationwide Series competition with 31 wins within those three years. On behalf of the team to accept the owners championship trophy was J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It’s really neat. I’m just glad to do it two in a row. I cant say enough about these guys, they were great. Mike’s been a great crew chief and more importantly, he’s a great friend,” Stenhouse Jr. said moments before the trophy presentation.
Stenhouse Jr. won six races this year, tallying up 26 top-ten finishes along with 19 top-fives in addition to four pole awards which should lead the way for his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series.
With all of the championship talk, there was actually a race today and it was a true race to the finish. Regan Smith, who was entered in the Ford EcoBoost 300 in a third JR Motorsports car to prepare for a full-schedule with the team in 2013, used his Sprint Cup Series experience to win his first Nationwide Series race. Smith held off the dominant Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch during a late race restart to win the event, the only victory for the team this year.
Busch ended his eight-year winning streak in the Nationwide Series as he was incapable of running upfront once darkness hit the track roughly 90 laps into the race. If Busch were to have won a race this season, he would have tied Martin for the most consecutive seasons with a victory at nine.
Danica Patrick also made history this evening as she became the first woman driver to finish inside the top-ten in the final standings as she finished 10th in points with four top-tens throughout the season.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.