With tears in eyes and three fingers in the air, Richard Childress hardly had words to describe his latest NASCAR championship.
His grandson, Austin Dillon, won the Nationwide Series title in the famed No. 3 and by three points.
“Hard to believe,” Childress said. “I couldn’t be more proud of Austin. He drives with his heart every lap. What can you say? He’s just a great competitor, a great grandson. I’m proud, really proud of him. He ran good and hard tonight.”
Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, moving up 10 spots in the closing few laps to give an otherwise typical race a wild and wacky finish.
But the night belonged to Dillon, who overcame a sluggish start and a scrape against the wall to finish 12th. It was good enough to hold off Sam Hornish Jr. by three points. Hornish crossed the line eighth.
“It was ugly,” said Dillon, who won the Truck Series title in 2011. “Probably the worst car we had all year. But we fought. My guys kept me positive in the car.”
Hornish looked as if he would overcome an eight-point deficit in the standings for much of the 200-lap race, but a lengthy caution late posed problems. NASCAR slowed the race for 12 laps — tied for the longest caution of the year — and it turned out to be a setback for Hornish.
He dropped from third to ninth on the final restart with five laps to go, ending his chances at getting a title in what was his final race for Penske Racing.
“I felt very sorry for Sam,” Penske said. “And I have to say I’ve never seen a race that was so important give away 15 or 16 laps before you have five laps to go. To me, that is very disappointing from the standpoint of the fans and (us) as competitors. When I think about it, it could have gone either way.”
NASCAR defended its decision to keep the race under caution.
“When you’re in situations like that, the most important thing is getting the track race ready,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.
Keselowski got new tires during the final caution and used them to weave his way through traffic. He went from 11th to first in a two-lap span after the restart. And once he was out front, no one was catching him.
Certainly not Dillon and Hornish, who were stuck on old tires because they had used their allotment.
“I don’t even remember what happened,” Keselowski said. “We were going to win the race or I was going to bring back the steering wheel. With five laps to go, that’s the only attitude that can win the race. Sometimes you make it through, sometimes you don’t. Today we did. A lot of aggressive moves. It almost felt like a video game passing 10 or 12 cars in two or three laps. That’s what you’ve got to be able to do to win at this level.”
Keselowski finished the season with seven victories, all in the last 10 of his 16 series starts.
Rookie Kyle Larson finished second, followed Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne.