Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Ricky Stenhouse clinches second straight NASCAR Nationwide series title

HOMESTEAD — With about 10 laps to go in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300, Ricky Stenhouse's car rubbed with Austin Dillon's, forcing Stenhouse to fight for control.

"Do not race him," Stenhouse spotter Mike Calinoff warned over the radio. "Do not race him. You don't need that."

Good advice since all Stenhouse needed was a 16th-place finish to clinch his second straight Nationwide series championship.

So Stenhouse, fighting the urge to compete, backed off and, more or less, cruised to finish sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 25-year-old's second title in his three seasons, 23 points ahead of Elliott Sadler.

"It is unbelievable; just a lot of hard work by a lot of great people," Stenhouse said. "I'm just blessed to be part of it."

The championship overshadowed a pretty nice story as Sprint Cup regular Regan Smith, in his 103rd Nationwide start and first since 2007, earned his first series win, besting Kyle Busch.

"That was one strong race car," said Smith, who won for JR Motorsports, the team for which he will drive next season. "Hopefully that was part of a statement. I can't wait for next year. It kind of (stinks) we have to wait two months. I'd like to get things started."

For Stenhouse, it was a fitting end to his Nationwide career as he moves next season to owner Jack Roush's Sprint Cup operation.

There were some nervous moments. Like a stubborn child, Stenhouse at different times engaged Sadler and Brian Scott, even after the incident with Dillon.

That brought more reprimands from Calinoff. And that prompted Stenhouse, with six wins and a series-best 19 top-five finishes, to turn off his headset:

"I got tired of listening, so I keyed up the mike so he couldn't talk to me the rest of the race. I like racing hard like that. That's what I do."

Said Roush: "My concern was that he'd hit the wall while he was trying to hold the damn button down."

But crew chief Mike Kelley added: "That's just the racer in Ricky. He wants to win every race, and you can't ask more than that. But we were big-picture racing and just had to do what was right … not to lose sight on what we set as our goal at the end of last year."

FORMULA ONE: Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel earned the pole position for today's U.S. Grand Prix on a new track in Austin, Texas, with a lap of 1 minute, 35.657 seconds. The German leads Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 10 points and can clinch his third consecutive world title today.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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Published: 04/22/18