Regan Smith scored the victory while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. claimed the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Smith scored his first career Nationwide Series victory and gave JR Motorsports its first trip to Victory Lane since 2010 when he picked up the checkered flag in Saturday night’s season finale.
“That was a strong race car, that's what just happened,” said Smith. “First and foremost, I got to thank all the guys at JR Motorsports. They build a heck of a racecar and I'm excited about driving them next year.
“These guys worked hard all year long and we're going to do the same next year and contend for a championship. That's our plan. Hopefully tonight was part of a statement right there.”
Smith became the fourth first time winner of the season and laid solid foundation for his full-time assault on the Nationwide Series title with the team next season.
“These things are fun to drive,” said Smith. “I can't wait for next year, can't wait to get to Daytona. I kind of sucks that we've got to wait two months now. I'd rather start now and get going with things.”
Pole sitter Kyle Busch finished second and ended the year without a Nationwide Series victory for the first time in eight years ending a streak that began in 2004.
Brendan Gaughan, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
Stenhouse finished sixth to lock up his second straight series championship. He became the first driver to score consecutive titles since Martin Truex Jr. in 2004-05.
“It is unbelievable,” said Stenhouse Jr. “These guys have put a lot of hard work into it. From the engine shop to the body shop and chassis shop these guys that go on the road and their families. There are a lot of people that have put a lot of effort into this. I am just the lucky guy that gets to drive it.”
He won six times this season and ended the year 23 points ahead of Elliott Sadler to wrap up the crown.
“It was a great two years and we have had a lot of fun,” said Stenhouse, who moves to the Roush Fenway Racing Sprint Cup stable in 2013. “We look forward to our opportunity next year.”
It wasn’t an easy night for Stenhouse who was involved in a tight pack of racing for several laps as the race wound down.
“Well, that is just the racer in Ricky,” said crew chief Mike Kelley. “He wants to win every race we are in and you can’t ask more than that. We were big picture racing and just had to do what was right tonight which was not lose our sight on what we set as our goal back at the end of last
year. It was good.”
Team owner jack Roush celebrated Stenhouse Jr.’s accomplishment.
“Ricky Stenhouse has won our first back-to-back championship for a driver in a series,” said Roush. “We had back-to-back Cup championships in 2003 and 2004 but with different drivers. He did a great job and he has made a great champion and is going to make a great Cup driver next year.”
Brian Scott, Ryan Blaney, Sadler and Cole Whitt completed the top 10.
"We raced as hard as we could every weekend,” said Sadler, who finished second behind Stenhouse in the championship for a second straight year. “We came up short. We'll hang our hat on some wins and poles.
"It's way more disappointing this year because we had control of the points the whole entire season...."
Dillon finished third in the championship standings to earn the 2012 Rookie of the Year title. The Richard Childress Racing driver scored 27 top-10 finishes to lead the series including two trips to Victory Lane.
The Joe Gibbs Racing team clinched the season Owners Championship with the No. 18 Toyota entry. It was the fourth time JGR earned the honor.
There were 13 lead changes among 10 drivers in a race slowed by five cautions for 24 laps.
Stenhouse Jr. will be honored for his championship during Monday’s night’s Nationwide Series awards ceremony in Miami.