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…