HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Recap by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America photo —
Kyle Larson had yet to win a NASCAR national series race on the 2015 season … until Saturday.
The racing prodigy and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the year dominated Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 118 of 200 laps — his personal season-high — to win his first NASCAR XFINITY Series race of 2015.
A restart with 15 laps to go saw the 23-year-old driver slip back to fifth, but methodically work his way back up front and make the winning pass on Austin Dillon with four laps to go to claim his first win at the 1.5-mile track.
“This is definitely my favorite racetrack on the circuit by fashion, at least for the XFINITY Series goes,” Larson said. “I was close to winning my rookie season here in 2013, about 50 foot short of winning it last year, and then this year once again we had a really fast car and was able to lead the most laps again and almost gave it away again on a late-race restart. I was pretty frustrated with myself with 12 or so laps to go when Austin was about half a straightaway in front of me, and I didn’t even know if I could get to third, really.”
“I was surprised that those guys up in front of me didn’t get to the wall where I had been running the whole race, and once the tires kind of slowed down, I was able to close very quickly on those guys and get to Austin’s back bumper and kind of put a little pressure on him to make a mistake there because he knew he had to move up and try and take my line away and do it really fast. He just got in the corner a little too hard and straight and got into the wall, and I was able to get my car turned down underneath him and come away with the lead off 4 and then just kind of cruise to the win.”
Dillon won three events on 1.5-mile tracks in the No. 33 Chevrolet and looked to be on his way to a fourth win on those types of tracks. The 2013 XFINITY champion took the lead after a restart on lap 179 and pulled away from everyone until Larson ran him down in the closing laps and made the winning pass.
“We had a car that could take off really well for about 15 laps, and I thought 15 laps is what we had there at the end and it was about three or four more than we needed,” Dillon said. “Kyle [Larson] was the class of the field, obviously. He’s got that wall figured out where he can run up there, he didn’t even scratch his car I don’t think. I tried it up there and I flat-sided. My car got better when I hit the wall, running a lane off the wall was pretty good and I could take off. I knew he was coming and had to try and take his line away and I think he was coming either way, but it was fun. I was glad I blistered him on the restarts, that was fun, but he was really fast.
Larson and Kyle Busch drove away from the field in the first half of the race, putting nearly 20 seconds on third-place Erik Jones before Josh Reaume brought out the caution on lap 118. The two drivers swapped the lead nine times throughout the event.
“Kyle was better than me, I thought, for probably eight to ten laps, and it was a matter of me just being able to beat him into Turn 1, clear him off Turn 2, and then just trying to hold him off and watch my mirror a lot to try and take his air away,” Larson said. “We were side drafting each other a few different restarts down the straightaways, and I was able to come out in front of him each time, which was good for our race because it made him drive really hard to make mistakes that you don’t hardly ever see. He got into the wall a few times, and then their pit crew made an error there on the past pit stop.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier to get the win after my team said that the 54 had an uncontrolled tire.”
Busch’s penalty added injury to insult when the 30-year-old driver checked up to miss Ryan Sieg and drove across the front end of Darrell Wallace Jr., making contact with the inside wall and ending any chance at a comeback win. The No. 54 team held on for second in the owner’s standings, one point ahead of the No. 60 Roush-Fenway Racing team.
Larson’s No. 42 team faced a myriad of problems throughout the 2015 XFINITY season, including running out of gas and other unsundry problems, but the group that was Turner Scott Motorsports and this season became HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi broke into victory lane for the first time since Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2014.
“We set out on a pretty deliberate pace at the beginning of the year, and sometimes it doesn’t seem as fast as you want it to be, but what we ended up doing, and it proved to be a very good strategy, was to see what we had to start the year with before we went and changed things for the sake of changing things, and I think the guys — Max Jones and the guys back at Chip Ganassi Racing, and (crew chief) Mike Shiplett, to his credit, as well — they concentrated on things that were going to get us speed the quickest,” Larson explained. “It took a little bit of time to ramp it up, and basically what you were looking at was a brand new race team this year.”
Behind Larson and Dillon, newly-crowned Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones, Brian Scott and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five in the final race of the season. Blaney’s effort in the No. 22 Ford was a fitting end to the season for ‘The Captain’ Roger Penske, who clinched his third consecutive NXS owner’s title two weeks ago at Texas.
Meanwhile, in the drivers’ championship hunt, all Chris Buescher needed was to finish 13th or better in Saturday’s race.
He ended up doing slightly better than that.
The Prosper, Texas driver’s 11th-place finish sealed the deal and gave Roush Fenway Racing their first XFINITY title since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012. Buescher took the points lead after his first oval win at Iowa Speedway in May and never gave it back, finishing 15 points ahead of defending series titlist Chase Elliott.
“This is the biggest moment in my career, just an awesome year for our organization, for our team,” Buescher said. “The guys did a tremendous job. No DNFs all year, no mechanical failures, nothing that we beat ourselves on. You know, we were flawless in that regard, and it put us in the position to go out and win this thing like we can today. We didn’t have to go out there and win the race in order to bring a championship home. We had to make sure we finished, and we did just that.”
Elliott came up in short in defending his XFINITY Series title, winning just once during the season at Richmond International Raceway in September, but the 19-year-old will have something to look forward to — taking over the No. 24 Chevrolet in Sprint Cup action for four-time champion Jeff Gordon in 2016.
“It was an up-and-down season, first off, Congratulations to Chris and everything that those guys did,” Elliott said. “They just outran us, fair-and-square. There’s no reason to be upset about that. We need to do a better job and I need to do better. We were fortunate to get to victory lane once. Obviously, wish we could’ve gone there more. I think that’s kind of the moral of the year and something that I look back on and as we move forward and what not.”
“This sport has definitely evolved. The only thing that matters is going to win races and we definitely didn’t do that enough this season and I know that I need to do a better job on my part to try to give us more opportunities moving forward.”
Buescher padded his points lead with consistent finishes and by taking advantage when his championship contenders had problems, and circled that unwavering strength as a major reason he was able to take home the crown.
“Our championship year in 2012 in ARCA, we finished every lap of competition that there was to be had,” Buescher added. We never finished a lap down. We never had a DNF, and that made us realize real quick, that is a huge part of points racing, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a huge part of racing in general. You can’t afford to wreck race cars. It doesn’t do anybody any good for points or for that race. There’s times to be patient and there’s times to get aggressive, and I learned real quick that there was a difference in those periods.”
“We had to make sure that we were smart about it all year in 2015 to get to where we’re at now, and we did just that.”
Buescher will be joined at Monday’s XFINITY-Camping World Truck Series banquet by fellow championship contenders Chase Elliott (second), Ty Dillon (third) and Regan Smith (fourth). Daniel Suarez finished the 2015 season by winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and overtaking Elliott Sadler for fifth in points.
All five drivers will be honored Monday night at the Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Fla. The event will be tape-delayed and shown on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
RESULTS: NASCAR XFINITY Series; Ford EcoBoost 300; Homestead-Miami Speedway; Nov. 21, 2015
- Kyle Larson
- Austin Dillon
- Erik Jones
- Brian Scott
- Ryan Blaney
- Daniel Suarez
- Ty Dillon
- Chase Elliott
- Regan Smith
- Darrell Wallace Jr.
- Chris Buescher
- Aric Almirola
- Elliott Sadler
- Ryan Sieg
- Dakoda Armstrong
- Landon Cassill
- Ryan Reed
- Blake Koch
- Ross Chastain
- Ben Rhodes
- J.J. Yeley
- Jeremy Clements
- Brendan Gaughan
- Harrison Rhodes
- David Starr
- Mason Mingus
- Anthony Kumpen
- Garrett Smithley
- Eric McClure
- Kyle Busch
- Josh Reaume
- Joey Gase
- Tim Viens
- Mario Gosselin
- Derek White
- Carlos Contreras
- Mike Bliss
- BJ McLeod
- T.J. Bell
- Jeff Green
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is Race Chaser Online’s Associate Editor and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 22-year-old currently studies print journalism at Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
Email Kyle at: [email protected]
Follow on Twitter: @KyleMagda
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