Under dark, dank and occasional raining clouds Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson drove through the dreary weather to championships in the Xfinity Ford EcoBoost 300.
Buescher won the Xfinity Series title for the seaon, and Larson took first place in Saturday’s race.
In order to win the Xfinity Series championship, Buescher, 23, did exactly what Erik Jones did the night before in winning the Truck Series title — hang out safely around 10th place, avoid tangles with any competitors’ cars, stay away from any self-inflicted spinouts and keep ample clearance from the outside wall.
In other words, Buescher played it safe.
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It’s not a fun way to run the last 10 races or so. But I know it’s important. Winning this is awesome.
Chris Buescher, talking about piling up series points rather than driving all-out to win.
Buescher makes it well-known that he dislikes racing cautiously and firmly and repeatedly maintains “… I hate points racing.”
Entering the race, Buescher, driving a Ford, had more points than he would eventually need. He led Chase Elliott by 18 points and Ty Dillon by 22, and all he had to do was finish in 13th place or better to clinch the title.
Saturday, Buescher finished in 11th place and 15 points ahead of Elliott.
“It’s not a fun way to run the last 10 races or so,” Buescher said of piling up series points rather than driving all-out to win. “But I know it’s important. Winning this is awesome.”
When asked if he was nervous during Saturday’s race, Buescher responded with a smile, “I did a good job of masking it, didn’t I?”
Buescher left his home, with his parents’ blessings, when he was 15, telling them he wanted to become a race-car driver.
Now, eight years later, standing in the winner’s circle at Homestead, celebrating his biggest racing accomplishment ever, things had come full circle when his mom came up with tears in her eyes and hugged him.
There certainly were no tears from Larson, 23, Saturday — he was all grins after fighting off Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon in the final laps to win.
That included a last restart in which Larson, driving a Chevrolet, thought he might have given the race away.
“On that restart, I told myself not to spin the tires, but then I got too hesitant,” Larson said, and that led to a slow start. “After that, I got nervous, and I did spin the tires.”
Fortunately for Larson, he made up substantial ground in the final laps, and, as he put it, “I was able to put some pressure on Kyle Busch,” who made contact with the wall, allowing Larson to grab the lead.
“I’m just glad I didn’t run out of time,” Larson said.
Larson said of the Homestead track: “No track suits me better. This is my favorite track on the circuit — by far. I love running up next to the wall here. I wish we could come here for about half the season.
In addition to Buescher and Larson, receiving a lot of fan attention Saturday was Elliott — even though he wasn’t in the top five.
Elliott, 19, put in a solid if not spectacular performance with his eighth-place finish, but many spectators were fixated on him because his next venture is to try to supplant a legend. The son of famed driver Bill Elliott will next season replace Jeff Gordon, moving into the driver’s seat in the No. 24 car.
Elliott will stay around Sunday and watch Gordon drive his final race in an attempt to close out his famed career with the Sprint Cup Series championship. He said he will try to remain in the background Sunday.
“I don’t want to get in the middle of what they have going on,” Elliott said. “I will watch Jeff run and be one of the biggest 24 fans around.”