HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Roger Penske doesn’t usually get over-emotional, but Saturday night following the conclusion of the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, ‘The Captain’ was practically giddy at having locked up his fourth NASCAR XFINITY Series owner’s championship.
On the strength of Sam Hornish Jr.’s runner-up finish in the race, the Team Penske No. 22 Ford Mustang secured its fourth title in the last five years, moving into second among all teams on the all-time list.
Five drivers — Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Cindric — piloted the car over the course of the season.
But it was Hornish who beat William Byron (JR Motorsports No. 9), Ryan Preece (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18) and Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20) to the checkered flag Saturday night, after moving to second on the race’s final restart three circuits prior to halfway and holding the position for the entirety of the 103-lap green-flag run to the finish.
Penske’s elation was so much so after the race that on the champion’s stage, he pulled over JR Motorsports co-owner Rick Hendrick — who took the driver’s title with William Byron — to swap hats for a photo, a tradition started in 2012 after Brad Keselowski won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title for Penske.
“That’s something I really wanted to do,” Penske said afterwards. “I have a lot of respect for Rick and we both appreciate what the other’s program has done … he’s been a great friend of mine for a long time and I’m glad they get to celebrate tonight as well.”
“I’m just thrilled for Sam (Hornish Jr.) for bringing it home for us. A lot of drivers and a lot of hard work from all these teams went into a great win tonight. … This (series) is where it’s made. We hung in there all day and we had a great car, but Cole Custer was long gone, so we didn’t worry about him. We were more worried about the guys behind us, but we held them off. Overall, it’s been a great season.”
Hornish lamented not being able to challenge for the overall race win, but acknowledged how superior Cole Custer’s car was out front after settling in where he needed to be to secure the championship for Penske.
“I kept thinking, ‘Man, if the 00 (Custer) wasn’t here, we’d be looking really good right now; we’d be putting a stomping on the field,'” said Hornish. “We were somewhere between him and everybody else, though. I was really happy with our Ford Mustang. … We just had some issues with our brakes and made a lot of changes overnight to try to remedy that. We got them to where they worked properly, but then I overused them in the first stage of the race and pretty much ran with a lack of brakes for the last 150 laps.”
“It’s sure a heck of a lot better feeling than it was four years ago sitting here, finishing second in the driver’s championship and just the way that everything played out. I feel great to be a part of it. It’s not equal to my name being on the roll of XFINITY champions, but it’s a lot closer than I was three or four hours ago.”
The season record for the No. 22 Ford ended with four wins, 23 top five and 28 top-10 finishes across 33 races, a consistent stretch that allowed the Penske squad to outrun all of it’s foes once again.
Keselowski captured the car’s first win in nearly two years at Pocono Raceway in June, adding a second trophy when he won at Richmond Raceway in September. Hornish took the spoils at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in July, while Blaney won during the playoff race at Dover Int’l Speedway in October.
But Penske was quick to remind everyone Saturday night that it shouldn’t be about him, but about the team he’s assembled that got the job done.
“This is a special moment for us, for our drivers and for all our sponsors — Discount Tire, Fitzgerald, the Rev Group — because it’s not something that everybody does. We had to beat a lot of good teams to get the job done this year and it’s thanks to all of the hard work that everyone puts in that we get to sit here tonight, so thanks to everyone that made this possible.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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