Austin Dillon showed admirable patience Saturday night. His car wasn’t running strong. So, he had to show restraint, waiting and waiting to make his move. And, of course, waiting is a pretty strange thing for a race car driver to do.
But on this night it paid off.
Dillon came from back in the pack in the second half of the Ford EcoBoost 300 to finish 12th, good enough to win the NASCAR Nationwide series championship, edging out Sam Hornish Jr.
Taking first place in the race was Brad Keselowski, who covered the 300 miles and 200 laps to take home $83,475. Keselowski is becoming a big fan of Homestead. A year ago, he clinched the Sprint Cup season series at the track.
Saturday night, he said even he was somewhat astounded by his ending, moving from 10th to first on the final five laps.
“I’m glad there wasn’t a passenger in the car with me at the end,” Keselowski said. “They would have been screaming the entire last 10 laps.”
Also having an interesting night — and probably a somewhat trying one — was Dillon.
He admitted , “We didn’t have the car tonight to run up there.”
For most of the race, Dillon stayed in the middle of the pack, or even farther back. At one point, he was 23rd in his quest for the season series title. Meanwhile, his main competition, Hornish, was running in the top five most of the evening.
Earlier in the day during qualifying, Hornish claimed the pole for the race.
When a caution came out 57 laps into Saturday’s race, Dillon and his team took advantage and pitted to make adjustments to the car. When he came out, that’s when he dropped to 23rd. But the maneuver was worthwhile with the car showing considerable improvement, and Dillon started working his way up the leaderboard, drawing a bead on Hornish.
Dillon made his final move of the night coming out of a caution with five laps to go.
“I wasn’t sure we were going to get it done,” said Dillon, 23. He edged Hornish by three points for the season title.
A familiar face greeted him at the end. Dillon’s racing team is headed by his grandfather, Richard Childress.
Hornish, who trailed Dillon by eight points going into the race, was visibly disappointed in not pulling off the victory.
“We had it for most of the night,” Hornish said. “Some was the driver’s fault and some was the team’s fault and some was out of our control.
“I knew Austin was obviously trying to take care of everything and make sure he made it to the end.”
Hornish was asked if he though there should have been a red flag for the final caution.
“It sure seems like most of the time we would have stopped, but we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
• Penske Racing won its first Nationwide series championship. Roger Penske’s best previous finish was second in 2010.