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Smith tops in return as Stenhouse Jr. clinches title

November 17, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Race winner Regan Smith and Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shared the spotlight in the finale at Homestead. (Autostock)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It was as if Regan Smith never had been gone.

Making his first Nationwide Series start in five years, Smith drove the to victory in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, beating pole-sitter Kyle Busch to the finish line by 1.375 seconds.

Ford EcoBoost 300

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2.Kyle Busch Toyota
3.Brendan Gaughan Chevrolet
4.Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge
5.Austin Dillon Chevrolet

Standings

Pos.+/-DriverBehind
2.--E. Sadler-23
3.--A. Dillon-24
4.--S. Hornish Jr.-105
5.--M. Annett-169

As Smith scored his first victory in the series for JR Motorsports, the team that has hired him full-time for next year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rolled to a workmanlike, problem-free sixth-place result to lock up his second consecutive championship.

* Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

Brendan Gaughan ran third, followed by Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon. Elliott Sadler came home ninth and held on to second place in the final series standings.

When Smith last raced in the series in 2007, there were no tapered spacers restricting horsepower, and the body styles were markedly different. On Saturday, Smith showed how well he could adapt.

"For me, I think there's been a ton of changes since '07," Smith said. "The tapered spacer, I think, is probably the biggest thing because it chokes the motor down so much. That took some time to get used to in the first practice, and even at the start of the second practice, I was still getting used to what I could do with the throttle.

"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. ... It's definitely a good start."

Stenhouse is the sixth driver to win consecutive Nationwide titles, joining Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. He's also the first Roush Fenway Racing driver to achieve the feat.

"It's really neat to be able to go back-to-back, when only now six of us have done it," said Stenhouse, who will drive full-time in the Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway next year. "That's pretty special. It really makes me see how hard that 48 team [of Jimmie Johnson] works on the Cup side with five in a row.

"It was a great two years, and we've had a lot of fun. We look forward to our opportunity next year."

* Video: Nationwide champion Stenhouse Jr. joins elite group

Trying to extend an eight-year streak of winning at least one Nationwide race per year, Busch led 65 of the first 66 laps, pulling out to a lead of more than nine seconds over second-place Regan Smith. The dynamic of the race changed dramatically, however, after two quick cautions, the first on Lap 66 for Ryan Truex's crash in Turn 4.

Busch's Toyota became extremely loose, and Smith and Dillon took turns at the front of the field. As the race progressed, Dillon became every bit as dominant as Busch had been earlier, building a lead of more than eight seconds over Smith before a cycle of green-flag pit stops that ran from Lap 145 through Lap 152..

Dillon's lead shrank to 3.093 seconds after the exchange of pit stops, and Smith subsequently chopped it down to 1.7 seconds before NASCAR called the fourth caution, for debris, on Lap 174.

Notes-N-Nuggets

• Regan Smith got his first career win in his 103rd race; his previous best finish was fifth.
• Regan Smith is the fourth driver to get his first career win in 2012 and the 12th different winner of the season.
• It was Regan Smith's first win in his first race of 2012; his last start was July 2007 at Daytona.
• Regan Smith is the sixth driver to score his first career win after 100 or more starts.
• Regan Smith is the fourth driver to win in his first series start this season.
• It was Regan Smith's first Homestead win in his third race; his previous best was 28th in 2003.
• Regan Smith becomes the third driver to win his first career Nationwide race at Homestead.
• Regan Smith is the 14th different Homestead winner in the 18th race there.
• Regan Smith led two times for 24 laps, including the final 22.
• JR Motorsports got its 10th career win and first at Homestead. It had not won since Jamie McMurray in September 2010 at Atlanta.
• Chevrolet got its 13th win of 2012 and eighth win at Homestead, both most among manufacturers.
• Kyle Busch (second) got his third second-place finish of 2012; he failed to win a race in 2012, ending an eight-season streak with at least one win (2004-2011).
• Brendan Gaughan (third) got his ninth career top-five finish and third in 10 starts in 2012.
• Sam Hornish Jr (fourth) earned his best Homestead finish in his fifth race; he had 10 top-five finishes and 22 top-10 finishes in 2012 with a best finish of second (three times) and finished fourth in points.
• Austin Dillon (fifth) had his 16th top-fives and season-leading 27th top-10s, including the past 12 races, which leaves him third in points and the Rookie of the Year. He won twice in 2012
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr (sixth) earned his second championship after six wins, 20 top-fives and 26 top-10s.
• Elliott Sadler (ninth) won four times in 2012; finished second in the Championship standings for the second straight year. after finishing 23 points behind Stenhouse Jr.

Championship Notes-n-Nuggets

• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins his second Nationwide championship in his third full-time season (20 or more starts).
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. beat Elliott Sadler by 23 points.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is one of 23 different drivers to win the Nationwide championship in its 31st season.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the eighth driver to win two Nationwide titles, joining Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.. No driver has more than two.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the sixth driver to win consecutive Nationwide championships (Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr.).
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the standings following eight races, including the final three. He took the lead for the final time following the Nov. 3 race at Texas.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won six times in 2012: Las Vegas, Texas, Iowa, Atlanta, Chicagoland and Kansas.
• Five of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s six wins came on 1.5-mile tracks, tying Kyle Busch's 2008 record for the most wins in a single season on 1.5-mile tracks.
• It is the fourth time a Roush Fenway Racing driver has won the Nationwide championship: Greg Biffle (2002), Carl Edwards (2007), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011, 2012).
• It is the fourth time a Ford driver has won the Nationwide championship.
• It is crew chief Mike Kelley's second Nationwide championship.

Busch took advantage to the late cautions to regain his form but was no match for Smith over a 15-lap green-flag run to the finish.

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