NNS: Winless No More; Matt Kenseth Breaks Season-Long Drought With Homestead Nationwide Victory as Elliott Makes History

Jacob Seelman Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —

In the final race for Nationwide as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s second-tier series, Matt Kenseth used a power move to put a long-awaited victory in his pocket in 2014.

Kenseth side-drafted Kyle Larson into turn one on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and pulled away with a push from his teammate Kyle Busch over the final dash to the finish to claim his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season and his first win in any series all year.

The victory was Kenseth’s 29th career Nationwide Series win and came after Larson took the lead using a similar side-drafting move on a restart with two laps to go in regulation, before a spinning Josh Berry and Brendan Gaughan drew the yellow about 50 yards from the white flag being displayed and set up Kenseth’s winning move.

“It’s been a long time since I won a race in anything,” Kenseth quipped in Gatorade Victory Lane. “Just happy for Kevin (Kidd; crew chief), cause he’s been trying to get a win over here for a long time and with him leaving for next year I’m glad we sent him off with a win here. That’s pretty cool.”

“Kyle got around me on that second-to-last restart and then, when he chose the bottom there and I had Kyle behind me I knew that we had a shot again — I just had to do a better job than I did the time before so luckily I got that last chance to redeem myself. We had a really good car tonight, especially on a short- to mid-range run, and that kind of fell into our hands except for the last two or three cautions we didn’t need, but it kind of worked out where we got in the front and had the speed on the front side of the run where we needed it. Just looking forward to next year now.”

For Kenseth’s crew chief Kevin Kidd, the victory was his first win as a crew chief since Kansas in the fall of 2010 with Joey Logano and his fourth career with JGR. Kidd will move on

“It’s certainly a great victory for us as a team. The core group of our team, we’ve been together now for about five years, and it’s been a little bit of a dry spell, so I’m really happy to see a lot of those guys get into victory lane, some for the first time,” Kidd said after the celebrations had subsided. “That just means a lot to me personally to see those guys with smiles on their face and really happy to celebrate a win.  It’s a total team effort.  Everybody on our team works really hard, week in and week out, and you know, just very happy that we could all celebrate together.”

Busch beat Larson to the line for second, after Larson led 111 of the race’s 206 laps but failed to win for the second night in a row after leading the most laps in Friday’s Truck race as well.

Ford drivers Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five in a race that was plagued by caution flags late in the going.

Already-crowned series champion Chase Elliott smacked the wall with eight laps to go, and then lost a right rear tire trying to limp his car to the finish — bringing out the caution with six laps to go at lap 194.

Elliott, who had already been shuffled out by a tire strategy gone wrong and subsequent restart at lap 148, still soldiered home in 17th to officially wrap up the Nationwide title as well as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, joining his father Bill as just the fifth-father son pair to win NASCAR national series championships.

“Man, this means the world to me, and not just myself but this is a huge accomplishment for our whole team,” Elliott said on the champion’s stage. “You know, this week I think more than anything — just kind of allowed me to sit back and think of not only the great people that made it possible this year, but there’s a lot of names and smart people and great racers that have helped me get to this point and allowed me to stand here tonight. A huge thanks to all of them.”

“This is a dream come true — I’d have never thought it at the beginning of the season but it’s good to get the job done tonight. I know it was ugly; we didn’t have a very good run but we’ll take it and I’m looking forward to enjoying this one as best we can. I’m still in disbelief. (This is) so so cool.”

Fellow young guns Dylan Kwasniewski (lap 186) and Trevor Bayne (lap 172) both also found the wall in the late stages, setting up some fantastic racing at the front of the field, including a restart on lap 189 when Larson, Blaney, Buescher and Busch went four-wide for second.

While Elliott celebrated the driver’s title, Roger Penske and his driver, Brad Keselowski, celebrated Team Penske’s second-consecutive NNS owner’s championship after Keselowski rebounded from stalling his car during a lap 76 pit stop to finish eighth. The No. 22 Ford team won the crown by a final margin of 23 points in a season that saw them claim six wins and put five different drivers in the seat (Blaney, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell and Alex Tagliani).

“I thought that race would never get over,” Penske joked. “I think the green-white-checker, and all we had to do was finish 25th, but you never know with all the action up front.  Brad ran a great race.  When you think about five different drivers, it’s really a credit to Jeremy Bullins, the job he’s done in preparing the car for different drivers, and with six wins, one with Ryan Blaney, it’s obvious the Nationwide means so much to us because it’s the proving ground.  It’s the testing ground for our crew chiefs, young drivers.”

“To me this was a team effort at Team Penske.  Everyone did so much to make this happen, and obviously it didn’t come down until the last lap there until we knew we had it.  Two years in a row, I think we had four championships here over the last few years, and that’s really important to us as we go forward. Tomorrow is a big day, but I’ve got two boxes checked off now, I get one more tomorrow.”

In all, the attrition-filled event saw 11 cautions for 48 laps, including two shots into the wall for young rookie Dylan Kawsniewski and a hard crash by Corey Lajoie on lap 117, as well as 16 lead changes between ten different drivers.

With Nationwide departing the series, the opener for the re-branded NASCAR XFINITY Series will be the Alert Today Florida 300 on February 21, 2015 from the Daytona International Speedway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.