Speedway Digest Staff
Follow us on Twitter @SpeedwayDigest
Polesitter Matt Kenseth paced Saturday's first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at Homestead.
Jimmie Johnson, the driver Kenseth is chasing in the championship battle, was 15th. Johnson must finish 23rd or better in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 to lock up the title, if Kenseth wins the race.
But Johnson didn't appear particularly perturbed at trailing Kenseth's fastest lap by nearly half a second (.479 seconds, to be precise).
"Oh, we were just working on comfort," Johnson said matter-of-factly. "And, you know, it's different conditions now than what we'll have during race time. So we're being smart about our changes. We were here and tested, and we tested at the end of the night when the race will finish.
"So I was just out there running around on old tires, trying to get a little comfort in the car, and we're making it more comfortable for the hotter conditions, and we'll see how that transfers to our later practice session. And then we'll make some smart decisions tonight going into (Sunday's) race."
Though there were 13 cars between Kenseth and Johnson in terms of top speed, the drivers were much closer when it came to 10-lap averages. Kenseth was fourth fastest in that category. Johnson was sixth.
True to his word, Johnson got the No. 48 Chevrolet dialed in during Saturday's second practice session. Yes, Kenseth again was quickest during the final practice session at 171.980 mph, but Johnson was right behind him in second place at 171.647 mph.
Never heard of Tyler Reddick? You will.
The Corning, Calif., racing prodigy, is the new driver of Brad Keselowski's No. 19 Ford in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
On Saturday morning, Keselowski announced Reddick, who turns 18 on Jan. 11, will compete in at least 15 NCWTS races next year and run the full series schedule for BKR in 2015. The BBR Music group, which has supported Reddick throughout his career, will serve as primary sponsor for four races in 2014 and as an associate sponsor for the balance of Reddick's events.
Country music superstar Jason Aldean is the best-known performer on the BBR label.
Reddick, nicknamed the "California Kid," won his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway in November 2012. He finished 19th in his only other K&N start, at Bristol in March.
"Tyler caught my eye at the Rockingham race," Keselowski said. "I continued to follow his progress, and he definitely made a positive impression on me and our competition staff at BKR. We look forward to helping develop Tyler into a championship-caliber driver and ultimately seeing him progress within NASCAR."
It was all in the restarts in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as both race winner Brad Keselowski and NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon accomplished their respective goals thanks to late-race charges.
After a restart with five laps left, Keselowski surged from 10th to the lead by Lap 198 of 200, passing both Kyle Busch and race runner-up Kyle Larson to take over the top spot.
"That late-race restart was key," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "We came in and put tires on with 20 to go, and that yellow (for a four-car crash on Lap 183) was out for [12 laps], and I didn't think we were going to have a shot at it.
"But we got the right restart and made our way through. I'm going to have to watch the in-car camera, because that was one hell of a ride. Be glad there wasn't a passenger with me, because they would have been screaming the whole way. I know I was."
Dillon was simply screaming with joy after holding off Sam Hornish Jr. for the championship. Fighting a balky No. 3 Chevrolet for most of the night, Dillon finished 12th but kept Sam Hornish Jr. in his sights after two late restarts.
Hornish ran eighth, with 37 laps led, but lost the title to Dillon by three points. Dillon became the first driver to win the series championship without winning a race, thanks to season-long consistency.
"I was just glad to see the 12's back bumper [after the final restart]," Dillon said. "I knew if I could see him and know where he was that I wasn't going to give up till the end. I had a great start and tried to get the jump on him. It worked out.
"That's all I can say. He was a great competitor, and he brought his stuff tonight, and we were able to capitalize at the end. Man, it was a hell of a race"
Keselowski's Penske Racing teammate, Joey Logano, gained six spots after the final restart to secure the owners' championship for his No. 22 Penske Ford. The margin over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Kyle Busch? A single point.
With his fourth second-place finish of the season, Larson locked up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. His No. 32 Chevrolet, however, failed post-race inspection for being too low, the team's second offense. Keselowski's victory also secured the NNS manufacturers' championship for Ford.
"It means a lot to me to win rookie of the year in the Nationwide Series," Larson said. "A lot of veterans in the past and in the current Sprint Cup Series have won the rookie of the year. To add my name to that list hopefully means I'm doing something good."
Larson will move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
For Keselowski, the victory capped a remarkable NASCAR Nationwide Series effort in 2013. The win was his seventh of the season but his first in the No. 48. Keselowski won his first six races in the No. 22 Logano drove on Saturday. The 2010 NNS champion, Keselowski notched his 27th victory in the series.
Ryan Blaney (@RyanBlaney22), driver of the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford F-150, made his second career start at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) during the Ford EcoBoost 200 on Friday night, after winning his second pole of the season during qualifying earlier in the evening.
Blaney got off to a hot start, leading 37 out of the first 40 laps of the race. Crew chief, Doug Randolph brought Blaney to pit road for fuel and four tires on lap 40 under the second caution of the night. Blaney's only issue, was a lack of grip on his Cooper Standard Ford. The pit crew was lightning fast, winning the race off pit road.
The No. 54 brought out the second caution of the night on lap 63 for a wreck in turn four. Blaney restarted in the second position on lap 69 and by lap 78 he overtook the No. 51 truck for the lead once again.
Blaney tagged the wall while leading on lap 93, which damaged the Cooper Standard Ford F-150 enough to bring out the caution, and forcing the team to make two pit stops to fix the front splitter and tape the right-side. He restarted 26th with 38 laps to go.
By lap 118, Blaney had moved all the way back inside the top 10, with his sights focused on the front of the field.
It took three attempts at a green-white-checker in order to close the books on the 2013 season. Blaney was relentless, and drove all the way up to the second position before the checkered flag dropped.
The No. 29 BKR team finished the season sixth in the NCWTS driver points standings, 78 points back from first.
Blaney secured NCWTS Rookie of the Year honors, and made NASCAR history by becoming the youngest winner of the award in the Truck Series.
"Overall a strong showing and season for my Cooper Standard team. I wish I didn't get into the wall, because we had something for the No. 51 tonight. We've come a long way all year, and I'm thrilled to be a part of Brad Keselowski's organization. I am looking forward to working with these guys in the off-season to build on where we left off for 2014." - Ryan Blaney
Ross Chastain (@RossChastain), driver of the No. 19 Melon 1 Ford F-150, made his 14th start for Brad Keselowski Racing (BKR) and his second start at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 after qualifying in the fifth position earlier that evening.
Chastain struggled with a loose handling Truck early, dropping back to the 17th position by lap four. When the first caution flew on lap five, crew chief, Chad Kendrick brought the Melon 1 Ford down pit road for four tires, fuel and a major track bar adjustment.
When the second caution of the night was displayed on lap 40, Chastain radioed to the team with the feedback that he was still very loose, but Kendrick kept him out for track position.
On lap 63, Chastain brought his Ford F-150 down pit road for four tires, fuel, coming in 11th and restarting 10th, with the pit crew gaining one spot on the restart.
On lap 93, momentum began to shift to Chastain's side as he moved towards the top 10. The Melon 1 Ford F-150 came in for right-side tires and no adjustments, getting off pit road first and restarting first with 38 to go. Chastain fell into second position before the caution fell again on lap 101.
Chastain brought his Melon 1 Ford in for the final time on lap 130 for a track bar adjustment, fuel and tires. The first attempt at a green-white-checker, Chastain slipped back a few spots. By the final attempt at a green-white-checker, Chastain had positioned himself nicely to solidify an eighth place finish in a well-deserved effort.
The No. 19 BKR team finished the season fourth in the NCWTS owner points standings, 40 points back from first.
"What an up and down day it was for us in the Melon 1 Ford F-150. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to my team; they never gave up, and were a pleasure to work with all year. The credit goes to those guys who gave me good equipment throughout the season. I want to thank Brad Keselowski, Reese Towpower, Draw-Tite and Melon 1 for the opportunity this season." - Ross Chastain
Homestead-Miami Speedway has always been a track that has treated Timothy Peters and the No. 17 Parts Plus Toyota Tundra team well. The team qualified in the 19th position, but with a driver like Peters who is known for being able to drive his way through the pack - need not to worry.
Peters fought a loose Tundra for what seemed to be the majority of the race. Coupled with Red Horse Racing's talented pit crews, Peters always feels confident that he can work his way to the front of the pack. This was proven out again tonight as a pit stop is an opportunity rather than a roadblock. With a late race call by crew chief Butch Hylton to stay out during the caution period, the No. 17 Toyota Tundra was back in contention. Once again, Peters delivered and collected a ninth-place finish in the season closer. Peters finished 10th overall in the driver point standings.
Timothy Peters talks about this race at Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"It was an eventful season finale. We had a free Parts Plus Tundra all night long. The guys worked hard and Butch made a good call to stay on there at the end to keep the track position. We capped off the season with another top-10 finish."
Germán Quiroga was eager to end his 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie season on a high note in his No. 77 NET10 Wireless Toyota Tundra. His race at Homestead-Miami Speedway proved what a skilled driver he is and how much he has learned during his first full year in the Truck Series. Although Quiroga qualified his Tundra in the 20th position, he carefully picked his way through the field and raced most of the race inside the top-10. Skillfully, Quiroga placed himself up in the third position before the first Green-White-Checkered finish.
On the last few laps Quiroga looked like he stood a good chance of securing his first victory but racing and chaos could almost be synonyms. With three consecutive Green-White-Checkered finishes, Quiroga was shuffled around as trucks were racing three-wide around the 1.5-mile speedway. Quiroga was scored in the seventh position at race's end, capturing his sixth top-10 finish of the season. The finish also moved the NET10 Wireless driver up two positions in the driver point standings to finish the season in 13th.
Germán Quiroga talks about his race at Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"Tonight was a great night for our No. 77 NET10 Wireless Toyota Tundra. Our truck was better on the long runs but we made it all the way into the top-three. I was hoping we could bring home our first victory at the last race and home for NET10 Wireless, but we came close. It was a great way to end the season."
John Wes Townley and the No. 7 Zaxby's Toyota Tundra team have finished 15th or better in seven of the last eight 1.5-mile speedway races, with a record like that - they were eager to capture another great finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Townley qualified in the 14th-position which is a good place to be on the start as Homestead is a track where mayhem can be a factor. With a neutral Tundra the majority of the race, the Zaxby's Toyota Tundra team were able to put themselves in position when it mattered most.
Townley was sitting in the 17th spot when the caution fell on lap 131 for the first attempt at a Green-White-Checkered finish. As always, the Truck Series delivers with close, side-by-side racing and the first time this season at three G-W-C attempts. Townley was able to capitalize on the three restarts and bring home a sixth-place finish which ties for a career-high finish in the Truck Series. The finish marked Townley's seventh top-10 finish of the season and moved him into 11th position in the driver's point standings.
John Wes Townley talks about his race at Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"The finish today doesn't stand for how good our run was tonight. I think if we had a few more laps on that last restart, I think we would've been able to get another position or two. All-in-all, a great way to finish the year with another top-10 finish backing up my best finish so far in the Truck Series. I'm really happy about my Zaxby's Toyota Tundra team and what we were able to accomplish this season."