Saturday, September 25, 2021

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NNS: Matt Kenseth beats Larson on restart to win Ford EcoBoost 300; Elliott crowned champion

On a final green-white-checkered restart, Matt Kenseth would get by Kyle Larson and lead the final two laps en route to scoring the victory. It marks Kenseth’s 29th career Nationwide Series victory, and his first of the season.

“It’s been a long time since I’d won a race in anything,” Kenseth acknowledged in victory lane. “It’s nice to get this for (crew chief) Kevin (Kidd) as he’s been trying for a long time and wanted to give him one before he went to do something different. Kyle got by me there, but once he restarted on the bottom, I knew what I had to do.”

Kenseth got the lead on a lap 24 restart and led all the way till two laps to go when Larson would sneak by. As Larson was headed towards the white flag, the caution would fly for Josh Berry and Brendan Gaughan going around in turns three and four. Kenseth would then use the restart to get back by Larson.

“It’s been a good year for us, pretty solid,” Kenseth added. “We just have had circumstances late in the race that have kept us from winning a race.”

Kyle Busch would get by Larson on the last lap to grab second, with Larson finishing third after leading 111 of 200 laps. Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five. Regan Smith finished sixth, followed by Ty Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott.

While Kenseth celebrated in victory lane, a pair of champions were crowned.

Chase Elliott clinched the Nationwide Series Driver’s Championship last weekend with three victories on the season. He finished 17th tonight after blowing a tire with six laps to go.

“It means the world to me – not just myself, but the whole team,” Elliott commented. “NAPA Auto Parts coming onboard and doing what they did to make this possible. This week, more than anything, allowed me to sit back and think of everybody that made it possible not only this year, but there’s a lot of smart people and great racers who helped me get to this point. A huge thanks to everybody that made this possible. It’s a dream come true. I didn’t think that I’d be here at the beginning of the season.”

Reflecting back on the year, Elliott says those three wins mean the most to him as they were “three big weeks” for the team, and gave them a confidence boost moving forward that they could win the championship.

“Greg Ives worked hard over the off-season to get the cars ready,” Elliott added. “I hate to see him go, but he deserves the chance and I wish him the best of luck.”

Elliott will return to the Nationwide Series next year, but without Ives as Ives will become Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Sprint Cup Series crew chief in 2015.

“He did a great job. The car was fast and you can’t doubt the talent that was in the car,” Ives said. “It’s kind of bittersweet a little bit. Last race with Chase and we definitely wanted to finish better than this. We had a car that could’ve finished in the top-five. We tried a little something different, and you can’t go back on that but keep fighting on it. He got it back up there and were fighting for a top-five, once again. Can’t doubt the talent that is in the car.”

The future, though, is the future. For now, the champions will bask in the glory of their championship as Elliott becomes the youngest series champion at the age of 18, and the first rookie to do so. He and his father Bill Elliott are just the fifth father-son duo to win a championship.

“Its just hard to believe. A year ago, we had nothing going on,” Bill expressed. “A lot of things had to come together. I keep saying that, but a lot of things had to come together. I thank everybody that came together to make it happen. To win a championship and make it happen, it’s unbelievable.”

The championship also marks the first time that JR Motorsports has won a series championship, with they do it in style with Regan Smith finishing second.

“We’re very proud. Chase and the whole team did a good job,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented. “I felt like they had a good shot at it, and we’ve had a lot of great help from a lot of people. There’s a lot of people who have helped it get to where it is today. Some of those people are still there and some aren’t – but everybody who has helped needs to be proud of getting us to where we are today. We have and a lot of help from Hendrick Motorsports with their resources and I have to thank them as well. It’s been a helluva ride to get here.”

While Elliott and JR Motorsports celebrated, Team Penske was officially crowned the owner’s championship with six victories and 25 top-five finishes on the season.

“It’s a real honor, obviously. What about those five drivers and six wins to beat Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing? That says a lot right there,” Roger Penske expressed. “This a great training ground for the drivers – you saw how Ryan ran. To me, it’s consistency and how hard the guys worked.”

 

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