Austin Dillon claims NASCAR Nationwide Series title with 12th place finish

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With a 12th-place finish in tonight’s Ford Ecoboost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Austin Dillon has won the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series driver’s championship – becoming the first driver to claim a NASCAR national series title without winning a race.

Dillon won the crown by a margin of three points over Sam Hornish Jr., who finished eighth in tonight’s race but came up just short of his first stock car title.

After struggling for much of the night with handling problems, Dillon was able to move into the Top 10 late. With 17 laps to go, the caution came out for a multi-car incident off of Turn 4 that involved Regan Smith, Jeremy Clements and Mike Wallace.

But instead of a red flag being thrown to provide a longer run of green-flag racing at the end, the clean-up under the yellow extended long enough for NASCAR to have to wave off the restart three times. Finally, with five laps to go and Hornish and Dillon running third and fifth respectively, the race resumed.

Hornish and Dillon both fell back but Dillon was able to hang on to enough positions in the last handful of laps to bring the famous No. 3 back to a championship stage and make his team owner and grandfather, Richard Childress, shed tears of joy.

“We didn’t have the car tonight at all to run up there,” Dillon said to ESPN before hoisting the NNS championship trophy. “That was probably the worst car we’ve had all year. But we fought. My guys just kept me positive in the car, and I knew that I had to go on that last restart.

“I’ve been criticized for restarts for a long time, and that was a pretty good one. I just hung up there against the wall and tried to ride it out. I just have to thank God, [sponsor] Advocare, Chevrolet, everybody that helped us, my grandfather and my whole family. They’re so supportive, and this is amazing.”

As for Childress, he tried his level best to express himself even as he was clearly overcome with emotion.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Austin,” he said. “He drives with his heart, every lap. What can you say? He’s just a great competitor and a great grandson.”

Consistency was the hallmark this season for Dillon, who didn’t score a win but racked up 13 Top-5s and 22 Top-10s. In the end, it was enough to make him a champion.

More to come tonight…

MRTI: pre-season testing Day 3 notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Day 3 of pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda continue testing for the second day in a row, with each series completing three sessions on what was their final day of running.

Quick reports on both series are below.

Pro Mazda: Cunha Surges to the Front

While Saturday saw Pro Mazda newcomers like Oliver Askew, Parker Thompson, and Rinus VeeKey lead the way, Sunday saw a pair of second-year Pro Mazda drivers take their turns at the top of the speed charts. In the combined results, Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha turned the fastest lap of the final session, also good enough to be the outright fastest lap of the weekend, taking advantage of a fresh set of Cooper Tires to do so.

“I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team,” Cunha said of the team’s performance. “On track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”

Fellow sophomore driver Sting Ray Robb, now with Team Pelfrey, was right behind Cunha in second.

Combined results across both Saturday and Sunday can be found here.

USF2000: Kirkwood, Cape Motorsports Stay On Top of Deep USF2000 Field

New Cape Motorsports driver Kyle Kirkwood, who topped Session 2 on Saturday, stayed on top of the combined speed charts across the weekend on the strength of his best lap from Session 3 of the weekend on Saturday.

Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh was right behind Kirkwood, on the strength of his quick lap from Session 1.

However, Sunday’s running saw a different driver assert his authority, with Kaylen Frederick, Lindh’s teammate at Pabst, turning the fastest lap during the final session.

Frederick ended up fourth in the combined results, which can be viewed here.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will take to the Homestead-Miami road course on Monday for the final day of testing for the Mazda Road to Indy.

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