Weekend wrap: Kevin Harvick, Enders-Stevens headline title weekends for NASCAR, NHRA

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Your 2014 NASCAR national series champions – Chase Elliott (left, Nationwide), Kevin Harvick (center, Sprint Cup), and Matt Crafton (right, Camping World Truck). Credit: Getty Images.

If this year’s NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway was a movie, then it’s clear that the ending saved it.

All Matt Crafton had to do to secure the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title was finish 21st in their season finale on Friday. He came home a steady ninth to become that division’s first-ever back-to-back champion.

The next day’s finale for the NASCAR Nationwide/XFINITY Series ended with Matt Kenseth winning in green-white-checkered, but much of the buzz had already been sapped since super-rookie Chase Elliott had already clinched the series title at Phoenix the week before.

However, the third act – Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 and the final battle for the Sprint Cup between Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano – was sensational.

Every member of that Championship 4 ran strong with all of them running in the Top 5 at one point during the race. But everything changed following a caution flag with 20 laps to go.

During the subsequent pit stop sequence, Hamlin stayed out to take the title lead, Newman took two tires to beat everyone out of the pits, Logano’s car fell off the jack and ruined his hopes, and Harvick took four tires and dropped to 12th.

But multiple late yellows doomed Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb’s gamble – and eventually allowed both Harvick and Newman to settle the issue among themselves in a three-lap sprint.

With the outside line having been the preferred one all night long, Harvick chose it for the last restart and was able to hold off Newman on the inside.

That was effectively the ball game as Harvick went on to win the race and his first Cup championship in style. It was also a just reward for his crew chief, Rodney Childers (who made the late four-tire call), and perhaps a balm for winning team owner Tony Stewart after what has been the most difficult year of his life.

But most importantly, it was a validation of Harvick’s faith in Stewart-Haas Racing that they would give him all the resources he’d need to win the title as well as the fate that brought him together with Childers and the 4 team, which basically built itself up on its own.

Meanwhile, Brian France and Co. can look back and smile at how their new Chase format fared in its first year. The opening Challenger Round basically played out as we thought it would, but from there, the drama and intensity continued to grow with each race.

And Sunday’s outcome was ideal for the sport. Harvick, who won five times and had been regarded as the fastest driver throughout the season, got the championship.

It’s also worth noting that if Newman – who, it must be noted, showed a remarkable amount of restraint at the finish and class in defeat – had beaten Harvick, he wouldn’t have been the dreaded “winless champion” that could have created a completely different memory of this Chase.

Some purists will continue to howl, no doubt. And a sense of purity is important to have. But we all knew that when the new Chase was rolled out, entertainment was the main goal.

Were you not entertained?

If so, then that’s all NASCAR needs to know.

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Erica Enders-Stevens (center) made history in the NHRA’s season finale. Credit: AP.

Also crowning its champions this weekend was the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in Pomona, California. The quartet of eventual class victors was headlined by Erica Enders-Stevens, who became the first female to take the NHRA’s Pro Stock class title and just the third female overall (Shirley Muldowney – Top Fuel, Angelle Sampey – Pro Stock Motorcycle) to win an NHRA pro-level title.

In Funny Car, Matt Hagan denied John Force a 17th FC title in the elimination races before dispatching the legend in the final to take the Pomona race win. Tony Schumacher locked up the Top Fuel title on Saturday but was denied a race win by Morgan Lucas in Sunday’s TF final, and in PSM, Andrew Hines secured the crown over teammate Eddie Krawiec.

Check out Jerry Bonkowski’s full report on Sunday’s Pomona action here.

March 29 in Motorsports History: Scott Dixon wins first race after reunification

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Reunited and it felt so good.

That’s what drivers likely thought before the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the first time since 1995, major-league open-wheel racing in the United States was under the banner of a sole sanctioning body as Champ Car and the Indy Racing Leauge had reunified just a month prior.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead. Photo: Jim Hines/IndyCar.

The first race after reunification also saw a reversal of fortunes for Scott Dixon, who won the race after losing the 2007 IRL championship in crushing fashion.

In the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, Dixon ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the race. The race victory – and championship – went to Dixon’s future teammate, Dario Franchitti.

But the tides turned for Dixon nearly seven months later, and the Kiwi was able to win with the help of another driver’s misfortune.

Tony Kanaan was leading with seven laps remaining when E.J. Viso spun and made contact with Kanaan’s car. Kanaan remained on track through the caution period despite suffering obvious damage to his right front suspension.

On the final restart with three laps remaining, Dixon and others cars easily passed Kanaan’s wounded car on the outside. Dixon then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to win at Homestead for the second time in his career.

“I think Marco (Andretti) and T.K. probably had a little bit better cars today, but we came through with the win, and that’s what counts,” Dixon told ESPN after his 12th career victory.

Following his victory at Homestead, Dixon continued to redeem himself through the course of the 2008 season. In May, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the first (and so far only) time. Following Indy, he went on to win four more times in 2008 and won his second series championship.

Also on this date:

1998: Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix of Brazil, the first of eight victories in his first championship season.

2010: Will Power won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was held on a Monday morning because of rain postponing the race on Sunday.

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