NASCAR Crowns Its Three Champions at Homestead-Miami
Well, it’s over, and for NASCAR fans, that long, dreary sequence of weeks without racing begins. But don’t despair…it’s only 96 days until the 2017 season kicks off (actually, only 93 days if you count the qualifiers at Daytona on February 23)…but who’s counting?
Anyway, it was an eventful weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the Championship 4 from each of NASCAR’s top series faced off on the mile and a half progressively-banked speedway, and the excitement was palpable.
Camping World Truck Series
Johnny Sauter didn’t win the race. He didn’t even get credit for leading any laps. But he was in front of Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, and Timothy Peters when the checkered flag fell and, for the Championship, that’s all that really mattered. With a methodical performance, Sauter brought home the series crown for Maurice Gallagher’s GMS Racing in his first year with the team. It was his first time claiming a Championship in a 15-year career that includes experience in all three of NASCAR’s top racing series. With 13 wins and 75 top-five finishes in 198 races in the Camping World Truck series, the 38-year old Necedah, Wisconsin native has long been regarded as a force to be reckoned with on the track. And now, he has the trophy to prove it.
By the way, the race was won by 18-year old William Byron, his seventh in a mind-boggling season debut for the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Champion and Kyle Busch Motorsports driver. The win gave KBM the Truck Series Owners Championship for 2016, and also solidified Byron’s position as the Camping World Truck Series Rookie-of-the-year for 2016. You can expect to see more of Byron next year when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports to compete in the Xfinity series.
History has been made in the NASCAR world, with Mexico’s Daniel Suarez capturing the Xfinity Championship in convincing fashion with his win in the Ford EcoBoost 300. The series’ second-year driver, with three wins and six poles in his two seasons of competition, dominated the Championship showdown from the pole and led 133 of the event’s 200 laps. It’s a storybook ending to the year for the gritty, accomplished 24-year old driver, making him the first non-native American to win a title in one of NASCAR’s top three levels. Call it a win for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, or call it a win for a supremely talented young driver, but either way it’s without question a popular end to the 2016 Xfinity season.
The remaining members of the Xfinity Championship 4 also had a good night, but not good enough. The experience of veteran Elliott Sadler brought him home in third, while Justin Allgaier (sixth) and Erik Jones (ninth) fell victim to a questionable (but totally legal) restart decision by Cole Whitt that created an outside lane stack-up.
The fireworks after the race were spectacular, but no more so than the fireworks that erupted with ten laps to go in the season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It looked like a seventh Sprint Cup Championship would elude Jimmie Johnson, as he struggled to remain near the front of a race dominated by non-Chaser Kyle Larson and a playoff grid dominated by Carl Edwards’strong performance. The lap 257 restart changed the entire complexion of the race–and the Championship–when Edwards and Joey Logan tangled going into turn one to trigger a wreck that destroyed Edwards’ No. 19, damaged Logano’s No. 22, and enabled Johnson to re-group and get himself organized for a six-lap sprint to the finish. Another caution flew before the end, sending the race into overtime, and providing Johnson a golden opportunity to execute a commanding restart and win the race–and the Championship–going away.
In the unofficial race finish, Logano wound up fourth, while Kyle Busch finished sixth and Edwards was credited with 34th place. One of the high points of the finale was the amazing display of class from Edwards, who was in pursuit of his very first Sprint Cup Championship. Even though neither he nor Logano did anything wrong on the restart with ten to go, Edwards accepted blame for causing the massive wreck that totally altered the Chase’s trajectory and destroyed several race cars. After walking to the infield care center to be checked out, Edwards headed to the Logano pit area where, instead of expressing anger or frustration, he shook hands with Logano’s Crew Chief and crew members and wished them well. Under the circumstances, and realizing what had been lost, Edwards lived up to his reputation as a “class act.”