Matt Kenseth rallied for a green-white-checker flag victory in the final race of both the 2014 season and in the seven-year history of the Nationwide Series on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The series will be rebranded as the Xfinity Series for 2015.
With two laps to go, shortly after Kyle Larson passed Kenseth for the lead, Josh Berry got loose and collected Brendan Gaughan in the process, just before the leaders reached the start/finish line for what would have been the white flag lap.
As a result, the scheduled 200-lap was extended six additional laps. After cleanup of debris from the wreck, Kenseth got a great restart on Larson and sailed on to his first NNS win since last season.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a race in anything,” Kenseth, who has not won a race in the Sprint Cup Series either this season (after winning seven last season), told ESPN afterward.
“Kyle (Larson) got around me on the second-to-last restart,” Kenseth said, “and when he chose the bottom there and I had Kyle (Busch) behind me, I knew we had a shot again, I just had to do a better job than I did the time before. Luckily, we got that last chance to redeem ourselves.”
Busch also rallied to pass Larson on the final lap of overtime to finish second, while Larson finished third, followed by Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher.
Regan Smith was sixth, followed by Ty Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott.
Even with his eighth-place finish, Keselowski – filling in for teammate Joey Logano, who will battle for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday – still ended up high enough in the finishing order to earn the NNS owner’s championship for Roger Penske.
Lastly, even though he finished 17th in the race, Chase Elliott officially accepted the last NNS championship trophy, as well, making last weekend’s clinching of the title at Phoenix International Raceway official.
It was 10 years ago that JR Motorsports opened its doors, and now it has reached the pinnacle of the NNS, with the 18-year-old Elliott becoming the youngest major series champion in NASCAR history.
“We’re very proud of Chase and the whole team,” JR Motorsports co-owner and Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “They did a great job. Everybody that has ever worked at JR Motorsports ought to be real proud to have helped us get to where we are today.”
Elliott, who had a series-high three wins and 16 top-five finishes this season, will return to JRM for next season for what will be the first year of the Xfinity Series.
“It means the world to me, not just to myself, but this is a huge accomplishment for our whole team,” Elliott said. “The last week allowed me to sit back and think of not only all the great people that made it possible this year, but there’s a lot of names, smart people and great racers that have helped me get to this point that have allowed me to stand here tonight.
“A huge thanks to all of them, they know who they are. This is a dream come true. I’d have never thought it at the beginning of the season. We’re looking forward to enjoying it as much as we can.”
Crew chief Greg Ives, who will replace Steve Letarte as Earnhardt’s crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series next season, would have liked to have seen a better finish, but there’s no denying the incredible accomplishments the entire team has done in 2014.
“The car was fast, and you can’t doubt the talent that Chase has in the car,” Ives said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, the last race of the season for Chase and we definitely wanted to run better than this.
“We tried something a little different, you can’t change it, can’t go back on it and go fight the adversity, and Chase was doing that. I’m very proud of that young man. He’s got a lot of years in front of him.”
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