NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers take their talents to South Beach for the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. While the champion is already crowned, a win is still on the line Saturday.
Rookie Chase Elliott clinched the 2014 NNS championship by leaving Phoenix with a 52-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. The battle for second in points isn’t over yet, as Smith only has a 13-point lead over third-place Brian Scott. Spots second through fifth in points are still up for grabs and can be either of the two or drivers of Elliott Sadler or Ty Dillon.
On the subject of championships, the owner’s title has still yet to be decided. The No. 22 Penske NNS team has a 29-point lead on the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team going into Homestead. Both teams will have their regular arsenal of drivers this weekend. Brad Keselowski will wheel the No. 22 machine in place of Joey Logano, who will focus solely on Sunday to win his first Sprint Cup Series championship. Kyle Busch returns to the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry to look for his first NNS win since Texas two weeks ago.
Keselowski is the defending winner of Saturday’s race, running a third Penske car, the No. 48, in last year’s event. He took tires late in the race and passed Kyle Larson with less than five to laps to go to capture his second NNS win at the time. But when talks of running the high line at Homestead start, Larson comes to mind.
The 22-year-old driver dominated the 2013 race and has shown speed on all 1.5 mile tracks this season in NASCAR. Larson has two wins on the NNS season at Auto Club and Charlotte in May. He is also one of two drivers attempting triple-duty this weekend, along with another Kyle (Busch).
A few drivers remain winless on the 2014 NNS season. The only driver without a win in the top five in points is Brian Scott. The Richard Childress Racing driver was close on several occasions, but hasn’t sealed the deal yet. Homestead has only produced two first-time NNS winners (Kevin Lepage, 1996 and Kasey Kahne, 2003) in the track’s 20 year history.
One more driver who still is looking for his first NASCAR win on the season is Matt Kenseth. The 2003 Cup champ hasn’t won in NNS since Kansas in Oct. 2013 and has one series win at Homestead in 2006.
The Ford EcoBoost 300 will also mark Nationwide’s last race as series sponsor before Comcast Xfinity takes over starting in 2015. Nationwide sponsored the series from 2008 to 2014 and Tony Stewart won the series’ first race at Daytona in Feb. 2008. Clint Bowyer won the first championship under the Nationwide Series name the same year.
Regan Smith’s return to NNS kicked off with a win in the Homestead race in 2012 and propelled a comeback with JR Motorsports the last two seasons. Smith has scored a win in each of the last NNS seasons since coming down from the Cup Series.
Three words come to mind for Homestead: high, wide and handsome. Drivers can run any of the three lanes around the 1.5 mile track in Southern Florida. The track was re-done in 2003, after being a flat track since its inception in 1995. Kasey Kahne won the first Busch(now NNS) race after the re-pave and Brian Vickers clinched his first NNS championship at 20 years old, the youngest champion in the series until Chase Elliott this season.
A No. 5 car will be on track this weekend, as Josh Berry makes his intermediate track debut for JR Motorsports at Homestead. Ryan Blaney also returns to the No. 12 for Penske Racing for the first time since Texas two weeks ago. Blaney also ran the Camping World Truck Series full-time with Brad Keselowski Racing in 2014. He scored the NNS win at Bristol back in August.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Ryan Preece makes his second NNS start of 2014 with Tommy Baldwin Racing this weekend. Preece was originally scheduled to run Richmond in Sept., but decided to skip it to run a modified at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut.
Scott Lagasse, Jr. also returns to the series in a fourth RCR entry in the No. 33, which has had a number of drivers this season including a win with Paul Menard at Michigan in June. Austin Dillon drove a Grainger-sponsored entry in his return to the series two weeks ago at Texas.
Corey LaJoie makes his final NNS start of the season with Biagi-DenBeste Racing, while Milka Duno is in the No. 87 CAN TV Toyota and locked into Saturday’s race.
Qualifying for the Ford EcoBoost 300 gets underway at 1:15 p.m. ET Saturday and televised on FOX Sports 1. The green flag for the race drops after 4:30 p.m. ET and shown on ESPN2.