Sunday, Oct 01
Speedway Digest Staff

Speedway Digest Staff

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Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 20th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Patrick, who started 24th, twice went a lap down to the leaders. But she rallied both times to return to the lead lap via the “Lucky Dog” rule, which states the first car one lap down when the caution comes out gets its lap back.

“I’m proud of the GoDaddy guys,” said Patrick, who made her 46th Sprint Cup start and her first at Homestead. “They gave me a good, consistent car that drove well. Tony Gibson (crew chief) made great calls all night, and the pit crew was outstanding, as they always are. The handling and the balance were good all night, and we did a good job of keeping up with the track and changes that needed to be made. It was a solid run for us – a good way to end the year and go into the offseason.”

Patrick, who was competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished two spots in the race ahead of Stenhouse, who placed 22nd. Patrick finished the season 27th in the point standings with 646 points. She finished runner-up to Stenhouse for 2013 Rookie of the Year title.

Patrick’s teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, finished 17th. The third member of SHR, Mark Martin, interim driver of SHR’s No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS as he subs for the injured Tony Stewart, finished 19th.

Denny Hamlin won the Ford EcoBoost 400 to score his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Homestead.

Matt Kenseth finished .799 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 37 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.

Newman represented SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and came into the final race of the 10-race Chase in 11th place among the 13 Chase drivers. He ended the season 11th in the standings with 2,286 points.

This was the sixth Sprint Cup title for Johnson, one shy of the record of seven Sprint Cup championships earned by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.


Though Kurt Busch finished a disappointing 21st Sunday in the Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he and the Furniture Row Racing organization will rightfully reflect on a successful campaign that was highlighted as being the first single-car team to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase playoffs.
Busch ended the season 10th in driver points and claimed a team season high of 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes along with nine front row qualifying positions and 448 laps led. 
"This was not the way we wanted to end the season," said Busch. "We gave it our best effort but we just didn't have the handling to run up front. I really wanted to give these Furniture Row guys a strong finish. I am disappointed right now, but tomorrow I am going to look back at this season and be very proud of what we were able to accomplish."
Busch added, “For this little single-car team out of Denver to finish 10th in points is quite an achievement and the credit goes to Barney Visser (team owner), Joe Garone (general manager), Todd Berrier (crew chief) along with our entire road crew and all the guys back at the shop. They gave everything they had to give and you can't ask for anything more. I made a lot of friends with this Furniture Row team and will always look back at this season with a special fondness."  
Busch, who started the 267-lap race from the outside pole, led four laps early but couldn’t maintain running up front due to a combination of handling issues with his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.
When the final caution came out on Lap 231 Busch was running in 23rd place. The team gambled with a two-tire stop that put Busch in third place for the restart, but the handling issues persisted as he fell back in the running order.
“We made a lot of major adjustments today and nothing would work,” said Busch. “We were off on the car setup and paid the price. But in the big picture, it’s been a great season. A lot of good things have happened. A lot of things have been learned internally with the team, as well as with myself.”
The Sprint Cup Series championship went to Jimmie Johnson, his sixth title in eight years. The race winner of the Ford EcoBoost 400 was Denny Hamlin. Rounding out the top-10 were:  Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Jimmie Johnson took another step closer to stock car racing history on Sunday, claiming his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.

Johnson, who entered the race with a 28-point lead over 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth, finished ninth in the Ford EcoBoost 400, putting his final margin over Kenseth at 19 points.

The championship is a record-extending 11th in the series for Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick’s organization also won four titles with Jeff Gordon, co-owner of Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, and one with Terry Labonte. Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, has led the team to all six titles.

The 38-year-old Johnson is one of three competitors to win six or more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. He trails only seven-time champions and NASCAR Hall of Fame members Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson’s five previous championships – all consecutive – came from 2006-2010. He has finished first or second in eight of the 12 seasons in which he’s been a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor. His 66 victories rank second among active drivers, behind only Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon’s 88 wins.

Johnson’s six championships have come in three distinctly different NASCAR Sprint Cup cars – including the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS that debuted this season.

After winning his second Daytona 500 to open the season, Johnson led the series standings after all but three races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season. He entered the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the No. 2 seed – behind Kenseth – with four victories. A dominant victory on Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway gave Johnson the Chase lead for good.

In addition, Chevrolet won its 37th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series manufacturers’ championship.


*When referencing "major American professional sports," the following have been factored in: Major League Baseball, NASCAR, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League.

SIX-PACK: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports, extended his lead among active drivers and inched closer to catching Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. after earning his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title with a ninth-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Petty and Earnhardt have seven titles apiece, followed by Johnson with six. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon ranks fourth all-time with four.

11TH TITLE FOR HENDRICK: Johnson’s 2013 Sprint Cup title is the 11th for Hendrick Motorsports and car owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick is the all-time leader in Sprint Cup owner championships and remains the only owner to win titles with three different drivers: Johnson (6), Gordon (4) and Terry Labonte.

ALL-TIME CHAMPIONSHIPS: The 2013 Sprint Cup car owner championship is the 14th for Hendrick Motorsports across NASCAR's three national series, extending the team's all-time record. Richard Childress Racing ranks second among owners with 12 combined titles. In the car owner category, Hendrick Motorsports has won 11 titles in the Sprint Cup Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Hendrick Motorsports also has won a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship, which came in 2003.

NEVER STOP IMPROVING: Lowe’s has been the primary sponsor for Johnson since the No. 48 team’s inception in 2001. Since then, the home improvement retailer has been on board for all six Sprint Cup championships, 66 victories and numerous milestones, including two wins in the Daytona 500 and four in the Brickyard 400. Hendrick Motorsports’ relationship with Lowe’s is one of the longest-running driver-team-sponsor partnerships in NASCAR.

KNAUS SETS THE STANDARD: With six career Sprint Cup championships, crew chief Chad Knaus ranks second all-time behind only Hall of Famer Dale Inman, who has eight Cup titles as a crew chief. Knaus holds the distinction of being the only crew chief to win more than two Sprint Cup titles in a row, a feat he accomplished when he coached the No. 48 team to five straight from 2006-2010.

KNAUS’ CAREER: Knaus has led the No. 48 team since Johnson’s rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series in 2002. In that 12-year span, he has helped Johnson achieve six titles and an average finish of 2.4 in the championship standings. The duo never has finished lower than sixth in Cup points.

YOUNGEST TO SIX: At 38 years and 61 days old, Johnson is the youngest driver (by 83 days) to win six Sprint Cup championships. At 38 years and 144 days old, Petty earned his sixth title in 1975, a little more than two months after Johnson was born. Earnhardt was 42 when he won his sixth title in 1993.

HALL OF FAME VOTE: Johnson will be the first active athlete to have a say in his sport’s Hall of Fame voting process. He will cast a ballot for the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame class thanks to a new provision that includes the reigning Sprint Cup champion in the process.

CUP VICTORIES: Hendrick Motorsports has tallied 218 Cup victories in 30 seasons, a figure that leads all teams in the modern era and ranks second all-time behind Petty Enterprises (268 wins). This season, Hendrick Motorsports posted nine victories with the new Generation-6 Chevrolet SS race car.

COMPARISONS: In the major American professional sports leagues, Hendrick Motorsports' 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships are tied for seventh all-time behind the New York Yankees (27 World Series titles), Montreal Canadiens (24 Stanley Cup titles), Boston Celtics (17 NBA titles), Los Angeles Lakers (16 NBA titles), Toronto Maple Leafs (13 Stanley Cup titles) and Green Bay Packers (13 NFL championships). Hendrick Motorsports is tied with the Detroit Red Wings (11 Stanley Cup titles) and St. Louis Cardinals (11 World Series titles).

CHAMPIONSHIP STREAKS: Prior to Johnson's run of five consecutive Sprint Cup titles from 2006-2010, Hendrick Motorsports scored four in a row from 1995-1998 with Gordon (1995, 1997 and 1998) and Labonte (1996). No other organization has won more than three Sprint Cup championships in consecutive seasons.

WINNING PERCENTAGE: Hendrick Motorsports is the most efficient team in major American professional sports, earning 11 titles since its inception in 1984 for a 36.7 all-time title-winning percentage. The Boston Celtics rank second with 17 NBA titles in 67 seasons (25.37 percent), while the Montreal Canadiens are third with 24 Stanley Cup titles in 95 seasons (25.26 percent). The New York Yankees rank fourth with 27 World Series championships in 113 seasons (23.89 percent). Hendrick Motorsports has won 11 of the last 19 Sprint Cup championships (1995-2013), putting the team's title-winning percentage during that span at 57.9.

SINCE 1984: No other major American professional sports team has earned more championships than Hendrick Motorsports since 1984, the organization's inaugural season. In that time, the Los Angeles Lakers have earned eight NBA championships and the Chicago Bulls have recorded six. Both the New York Yankees and Edmonton Oilers have tallied five titles apiece since 1984.

ROAD WARRIOR: Apart from Johnson and Knaus, car chief Ron Malec is the only member of the No. 48 Lowe’s team who has been on the road crew for all six championships. Malec started working as a mechanic with Johnson in the ASA Series in the late 1990s. When Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports, Malec also came on board. As car chief, he manages the crew members who work on the car both at the shop in Concord, N.C., and during the race weekend. He is responsible for the preparation of the race car and seeing it through technical inspection.

STILL ROLLING: Hendrick Motorsports never has run a Sprint Cup campaign without winning a pole position, recording at least one in 30 consecutive seasons (1984-2013). The team scored seven in 2013, including three from Johnson, two from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and two from Gordon.

WIN STREAK: Hendrick Motorsports has posted at least one Cup-level win in 28 straight seasons, the longest active streak in NASCAR. The streak began Feb. 16, 1986, when Geoff Bodine won Hendrick Motorsports’ first Daytona 500.

ANOTHER ONE FOR CHEVY: Chevrolet captured its 37th Sprint Cup manufacturers' championship and 11th straight this season after winning 15 races. Johnson led all Chevy drivers this year with six victories, including the 2013 Daytona 500, as he helped the manufacturer record its first title with the Chevrolet SS race car that debuted this season. Kasey Kahne contributed two victories to the total, while Gordon recorded one.

YEAR IN REVIEW: For the second straight season, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers were contenders in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The organization posted nine victories and seven pole positions as its drivers finished inside the top 12 in the championship hunt. Johnson finished first, followed by Earnhardt (fifth), Gordon (sixth) and Kahne (12th).

30TH ANNIVERSARY: Next season, Hendrick Motorsports will celebrate its 30th anniversary in NASCAR. The organization began in 1984 with five employees and 5,000 square feet of work space. It has grown to more than 500 employees with a 430,000-square-foot facility that sits on 140 acres.

Hendrick Motorsports PR

Blake Koch and the RAB Racing No. 99, Toyota Camry had something to prove going into the NASCAR Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, November 16. Koch started on the front row for the first time in his NASCAR career, and finished in the 11th position after restarting in the 21st position with five laps remaining.


On Friday, Koch made it known throughout the garage area that he was a contender when he completed the seventh-fastest lap in the first practice session and the fifth-fastest lap in the second and final practice session. This raw speed translated into Koch and the No. 99 team qualifying in the second position, a mere .01 seconds off of the pole-winning lap time set by Sam Hornish Jr. The second-fastest lap in qualifying was RAB Racing's seventh top-10 starting position of the 2013 racing season.


The green flag flew on the 300-mile event and Koch immediately started racing side-by-side with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veterans and held on to a top-10 position for most of the first half of the event. Laps 48-99 saw four caution periods and with each restart the action intensified with Koch still trying to familiarize himself with a car he'd never raced. The No. 99 slid back to the 21st position by the halfway point, with the balance of the car worsening as a result of turbulent air caused by the large pack of cars that were in front. Koch picked up positions on the track and in the pits and by lap 143 the No. 99 had worked its way back into the top 15, but received extensive front-end damage from the car directly in front hitting the wall and losing speed. The damage sent the No. 99 to the pits multiple times in an effort to fix the damage, but lost all the positions that were made up on the track, sending Koch back to the 26th position with a small handful of laps left in the event. Although the situation wasn't ideal, Koch and the Toyota Camry team never gave up, and after a lengthy caution period and restarting in the 21st position with five laps remaining Koch made a comeback for the ages. In the final five laps Koch aggressively made it three and sometimes even four wide finishing in the 11th position, the best result in his five-year NASCAR career. The 11th-place finish was RAB Racing's 19th top-15 finish of the 32 race schedule.


Blake Koch: "I can't thank RAB Racing enough for the opportunity to get my career-best finish and start on the front row here at my hometown track. A big thank you goes to Robby Benton, my crew chief Chris Rice, everyone at and for putting this together and allowing me to show my talents in great equipment. Not only did we compete at the highest level but we brought awareness to and helped a lot of children in poverty. We could have easily finished in the top 10 if it weren't for the damage we received to the front end of the car. I was racing for the 15th position and the car right infront of me slammed the wall and lost all his speed, I had nowhere to go and made contact with the back of his car. The damage we received to the front changed the balance and performance of the car. We had to give up all the positions we worked so hard to gain on the track, to come into the pits and repair it the best we could. My team never gave up and pushed me in the closing laps, I can't remember having that much fun in a race car."


With the 11th-place finish owner Robby Benton finished the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season in the 16th position in owner point standings. Blake Koch gained two positions in the driver point standings to finish the season in the 25th position.


RAB Racing PR

Justin Allgaier started his final race of the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) season on Saturday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway (HMS). After two practice sessions on Friday afternoon, Allgaier qualified his No. 31 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet Camaro in the 14th position for the Ford EcoBoost 300. Allgaier maintained a top-10 position for a majority of the day until a blown tire caused him to make contact with the wall, damaging his BRANDT Chevy. After battling his racecar in the closing laps, Allgaier drove the BRANDT Chevy home to a 19th-place finish for Turner Scott Motorsports.


After rolling off 14th, Allgaier worked his way up to the 10th position on lap 23 and radioed in that his BRANDT Chevy was starting to get tight. When the first caution flew at lap 48, Allgaier relayed to crew chief Scott Zipadelli that his car was loose in and tight in the center. Allgaier came down pit road for four Goodyear tires, Sunoco fuel and adjustments. Allgaier restarted in the ninth position and communicated to his team that his car was really good on lap 69. Allgaier maintained the ninth position until the fourth caution of the race at lap 99 when he radioed in that his BRANDT Chevy was good and he just needed track position. During the caution, Allgaier brought his car down pit road for fuel, four tires and an air-pressure adjustment.


Allgaier restarted in the eighth position on lap 103, and was in the seventh position on lap 122 when the fifth caution was displayed. Allgaier reported his car had lost grip and he came down pit road for fuel and four tires. He restarted in eighth position and after another quick caution he was in the sixth position when the seventh caution came out on lap 150. Allgaier reported his car was good and he brought it down pit road for fuel and four fresh tires. After varying pit strategies, Allgaier restarted 12th on lap 154. After another quick caution, Allgaier was in the seventh position on lap 177 when his tire blew causing him to hit the wall and spin out, ultimately bringing out the ninth caution. Under caution, Allgaier made two pit stops to change four tires, add fuel and repair fender damage. He restarted in the 26th position on lap 183. After the final caution of the race on lap 184, Allgaier finished the 200-lap race in the 19th position with a damaged BRANDT Chevy at HMS. After Saturday's race, Allgaier finished fifth in the NNS Driver Point Standings.   


"We had a good weekend at Homestead [Miami Speedway]," said Allgaier. "My guys worked really hard and set the BRANDT Chevy up to be really good on long green-flag runs. We had a great car during the race and unfortunately something out of our control like a blown tire ended our good run. I have to thank BRANDT, SEM, AccuDoc Solutions and Wolf Pack Energy Services, without great sponsor like them we wouldn't be able to do this. I also want to thank Harry Scott Jr. and Steve Turner, and everyone else at Turner Scott Motorsports. They all worked really hard this season to give me the best equipment."



Kyle Larson and his No. 32 Target team headed south for the final NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) race of the year on Saturday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway (HMS). In his NNS debut at the 1.5-mile track, Larson was immediately quick, recording the best lap in the weekend's opening practice session. In the race, Larson consistently ran the best lap times on the track, pacing the field for 54 of 200 laps. With just three laps to go, Larson surrendered the lead to a car with fresher tires, crossing the finish line in second place. Despite not getting the win, Larson did get to celebrate on Saturday night after being crowned the 2013 NNS Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

Larson wasted no time picking up where he left off in last year's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at HMS, where he qualified second and led 48 laps before a late-race accident. His No. 32 Target Chevrolet Camaro was strong in both practice sessions. After running the best lap time in first practice, Larson was slated to go out last in Saturday afternoon's qualifying session. With a lap time of 32.884 seconds, Larson earned the eighth-starting spot for the 200-lap race. However, it took him no time to begin working forward, as he gained three positions to take over the fifth spot after just one circuit around the mile-and-a-half track.


Larson moved into fourth position on lap 15, and radioed his Turner Scott Motorsports team a few laps later to report that the No. 32 Target Chevy was tight on exit but good on entry. As the race's long green-flag run continued, Larson kept up his pace, running solid lap times and moving into third on lap 31 before taking over the second spot two laps later. Despite getting into the wall on lap 35 and causing right-side damage, Larson continued to run the best lap times of the field. The 21-year-old took over the top spot on lap 40 and within a handful of laps, he had amassed a four-second lead. On lap 47, the caution flag was displayed for the first time and crew chief Trent Owens brought Larson to pit road for four tires, fuel and a small air-pressure adjustment.


Larson restarted in the third position, where he remained until the second caution was called at lap 56. After starting in the third spot again, Larson slipped to fifth over the following 10 laps. Under the third caution period, Larson explained that his Target Chevy was not as strong as the other top cars on the short runs, but that he was good on the long run. This proved to be true, as Larson fell back to seventh after the next restart but worked up to third before the yellow flag waved again on lap 98. After Larson reported that his No. 32 machine was a little too tight on exit, Owens again brought his driver to pit road for four tires and fuel, along with slight air-pressure and wedge adjustments.


After restarting in the fourth position, Larson moved into third on lap 103 and took over the second spot on lap 115. When the caution flag waved again at lap 121, Larson radioed to say that his car was really good. Wanting to stay on the same pit strategy as the other lead-lap cars, the Target team gave Larson four fresh tires and fuel, and the young driver returned to the track in the sixth position. On the ensuing restart, Larson went to the high side and moved from sixth to first in one lap. However, after another quick caution, he slipped to second on the next restart. Larson was still running second, but laying down the quickest laps, when the caution flag as displayed on lap 149. Again trying to remain consistent with others on pit road, Owens called for four tires, fuel and no adjustments to the No. 32 Target Chevy.


Larson restarted the race in the eighth position on lap 154 but gained six spots to take over the second position before the caution flag waved later that lap. Larson took the green flag from the second position on lap 160 but immediately moved to the point. After battling back-and-forth for the top spot with the No. 54, the NNS rookie again moved into first on lap 169. Larson remained in the top position throughout two more cautions in the race's final 30 laps. After restarting in first with five laps to go, Larson did his best to hold off his competitors with fresher tires. Despite being passed for the lead with just two laps to go, Larson's valiant effort allowed him to hold on to the second position. Crossing the finish line in second, Larson earned his fourth runner-up finish in the NNS this season.


"I can't say thank you enough to my Turner Scott Motorsports team," said Larson. "I am lucky to get to work with such a great group of guys. I am really bummed that we didn't get a win this year, especially in this race where we were so strong. I even got into the wall a few times tonight, but it didn't slow down my Target Chevy. We knew how important tires would be at the end, but I was hoping that we would be able to hold on to this one. Even though it is hard to walk away without this win, I am happy that we won Rookie of the Year and I know four second-place finishes isn't anything to hang my head about. I have had a lot of great sponsors this year, and I am really thankful to them along with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Turner Scott Motorsports for giving me this opportunity. I can't wait to see what next year brings."

Following the race, Larson moved into eighth place in the NNS Driver Point Standings. He also was named the 2013 NNS Sunoco Rookie of the Year, ending the season with nine top fives and 17 top-10 finishes. Larson will cap his 2013 NASCAR season by piloting the No. 51 Target Chevy SS in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at HMS this afternoon.


The NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) wrapped up the 2013 season Saturday at Homestead-Miami (Fl.) Speedway and the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 54 Monster Energy team finished strong with a sixth-place qualifying position, 29 laps led and a third-place finish. While JGR and Busch executed a dominant season with 12 wins, 11 poles, 22 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes overall, the Homestead finish left them just short of a season Owner’s Championship, awarded to the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford, a close competitor of the No. 54 team all season.

Upon taking the green flag Saturday night, in row three, the 28-year old NASCAR veteran quickly advanced to third place by lap 15 of the 200-lap race. Busch immediately reported a “tight-handling” car in the middle of the turns and asked his crew for help so the car could turn more in the front. Busch battled on track with other strong teams including the No. 32 of Kyle Larson and the No. 22 of Joey Logano, the Penske Racing Ford that the JGR team kept an eye on, considering the targeted NASCAR Owner’s Championship on the line.

The first caution waved at lap 46 and Busch relayed again the level of his car’s tight-handling condition. “I’m really tight, can’t hold the bottom and tight up at the wall.” Crew chief Adam Stevens called Busch down pit road from second place, on lap 48, and the team replenished Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel with a fast pit stop that put Busch in the top spot to restart the race at lap 61. Through two more yellow-flag caution periods and subsequent restarts, JGR teammates Busch and Matt Kenseth battled strong at the head of the field then found themselves surrounded by Penske competitors all within the top-five.

Another event caution at lap 97 gave the Monster Energy team a chance to make adjustments to Busch’s Camry, now fourth and still too tight to turn the car in the front. Past halfway and back to green the No. 54 gained two positions to second and then to first at lap 102, but not easily. While the pit stop adjustments helped, Busch battled hard for position with the No. 22 and No. 32, and then retained his lead at lap 117 as the field entered another caution period.

The JGR team called the No. 54 race leader down pit road for further adjustments that would now address a loose-handling condition reported by Busch. Pit stop strategies played out by other teams placed Busch in seventh for the restart and heavy traffic offered difficulty for the No. 54 to maneuver back to the front. “I’m loose, then I get there and I’m tight,” reported Busch who continued to battle his car’s handling. A subsequent pit-road visit offered one more opportunity for Stevens to make adjustments to the black machine and the No. 54 would restart tenth at lap153. “We threw all our chips in right here so take care of it,” Stevens relayed to Busch over the radio.

Busch quickly took advantage of the car’s improved handling and drove to eighth on the restart lap, to fifth in the next circuit, then to second by lap 161. Busch had regained the lead at lap 166 and started honing in on the race finish, however, two subsequent caution periods -- one that included a long track-cleanup from a hard crash on the frontstretch, caused remaining race laps to expire quickly. During that time some competitors had the opportunity to visit pit road for tires and adjustments that offered them stronger cars at the finish of the race. Busch battled hard to retain position but ultimately scored a final third-place finish.

Busch commented afterwards, “We were back and forth pretty much the whole race with the Penske cars and the 32 (Kyle Larson), so there were some pretty good cars all night. We never had a dominant car and weren’t poised for a win, we were going to have to earn it and we didn’t do that. It was going to be a race for track position there for a while but then at the end of the race, obviously tires paid off, and we didn’t have any and a couple of the other guys did. I hate it for this team, they’ve worked really hard this year and deserve to have a championship. It’s frustrating but it wasn’t just this race that cost us, we had a lot of mistakes this year, a lot of my mistakes too so we’ll have to figure out how to make it better and make it to where we can come back and try again next year.

The Monster Energy athlete continued, “We probably could have won the race but it certainly wasn’t the best car out there tonight. It was a lot tougher for us than what we hoped it to be, but we came home with a solid third, unfortunately today a solid-third wasn’t good enough. A lot of mistakes were made throughout the year, my mistakes too that cost us points. I hate it for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and I hate it for Monster Energy, those guys deserve a championship this year and with 12 races won. But I’m proud of the team and the way everyone worked together this year.”

Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing picked up his seventh win of 2013 and 27th career victory in 205 Nationwide Series races. Rookie Kyle Larson finished 1.126 seconds behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot. Busch finished third in his Monster Energy Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

There were 10 caution periods for 49 laps of the race along with 13 lead changes across 10 drivers. Busch led the field five times over 29 of the 200-lap event.

The No. 54 Monster Energy team closed out the season second in the Owner’s Point standings, one point behind the season-winning No. 22 Penske Ford team.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series goes into the off-season now and prepares for a 2014 race schedule that begins on February 22 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Busch will make his season debut once again in the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.



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