By Ford Racing Public Relations
Denny Hamlin ran his streak of winning at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race a season to eight after taking the checkered flag in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday night.
Hamlin, who entered the race winless after enduring a season that saw him miss four races due to an injured back, took the lead for good when he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 24 laps remaining and then held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished second. Earnhardt was third while Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Brad Keselowski was Ford's highest finisher as he brought the No. 2 Miller Lite Fusion home in sixth after leading for nine laps during mid stages of the 267-lap event.
"We definitely had the car on the short runs, but just weren't close on the long runs. I guess that was kind of the trade off," said Keselowski, who celebrated winning the championship a year ago after this race. "We had a lot long runs here at Homestead, which is normally the case. If we could have got the long run speed to go with the short run speed we would have killed them tonight, but we just didn't have that."
Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano gave Ford two top-10 finishers as he ended up eighth and wound up the highest-finishing Ford driver in the point standings in eighth.
"We did a good job this year and learned a lot about each other, and learned a lot about where we could have done a better job in races, and where we need to improve next year, and where to work on our cars during the off-season," said Logano. "It's been a pleasure to work with Todd Gordon and all these guys on this team. I had a lot of fun this year and this was my best season personally. I'd still call it a good season, not a great season."
One driver who will likely consider 2013 a great season is Jimmie Johnson, who registered his sixth series championship after finishing ninth and surviving a hectic restart midway through the race that saw his left-front tire make contact with another car. The uncertainty of whether or not the tire was damaged created some drama until a caution came out and he was able to make it to pit road.
Johnson, who ended up beating Kenseth for the championship by 19 points, trails all-time championship leaders Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt by only one.
"Those guys are amazing. They just prove year-in and year-out that you've got to work really, really hard in this sport," said Carl Edwards, who finished 12th in the race and 13th in the final standings. "They work as hard as anyone, so they deserve this championship. They put the work in."
When the series holds its banquet in Las Vegas on Dec. 6, two Ford drivers will make speeches. As mentioned earlier, Logano finished eighth overall while Greg Biffle finished ninth after struggling to a 24th-place race finish.
Overall, Ford won six races this season and had three drivers qualify for the Chase. Biffle gave the manufacturer a milestone victory at Michigan in June when he registered Ford's 1,000 NASCAR triumph in its top three touring series combined.
* * * * *
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Kyle Busch
8. Joey Logano
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Kevin Harvick
12. Carl Edwards
16. Aric Almirola
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
24. Greg Biffle
26. Marcos Ambrose
27. David Gilliland
28. Casey Mears
29. David Ragan
40. Trevor Bayne
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Matt Kenseth, -19
3. Kevin Harvick, -34
4. Kyle Busch, -55
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., -56
6. Jeff Gordon, -82
7. Clint Bowyer, -83
8. Joey Logano, -96
9. Greg Biffle, -98
10. Kurt Busch, -110
11. Ryan Newman, -133
12. Kasey Kahne, -136
13. Carl Edwards, -137
14. Brad Keselowski
18. Aric Almirola
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
22. Marcos Ambrose
24. Casey Mears
26. David Gilliland
28. David Ragan
When the green flag fell with five laps to go in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300, Brad Keselowski found himself sitting in 10th place, but he had something the drivers in front of him didn't - four fresh tires. That advantage enabled Keselowski to knife through the field like butter and win going away as Ford captured the NASCAR Nationwide Series manufacturers' championship and Roger Penske the owners' title.
The win was Keselowski's seventh of the season and a series-high 15th overall for Ford, which came one win shy of matching its all-time best season of 16 wins in 2002. The manufacturers' championship was the second in three years for Ford and fourth overall.
While Ford walked away with three titles, Sam Hornish Jr's. bid for a fourth didn't materialize as Austin Dillion hung on to win the drivers' championship by three points. Hornish was in a position to win the title for much of the race as he led laps and ran in the top-five most of the race while Dillon struggled.
The race turned, however, when caution came out with 17 laps to go for a multi-car accident. Hornish was third at the time and stayed out, but as the clean-up process dragged on and the laps dwindled, his chances for the title grew slimmer because when a group of cars pitted, Dillon moved up to fifth.
Many felt NASCAR should have thrown a red flag, and by the time the track was deemed ready to race there were only five laps remaining. Any chance Hornish had slipped away on the restart as Kyle Busch spun the tires and slowed the entire inside line. That left no time for Hornish to recover and he ended up eighth.
Trevor Bayne ended the season on a good note with a fifth-place finish while Joey Logano, who also put on four tires during the final caution, rallied to a sixth-place finish and claim Penske's first owner's championship by a single point over Joe Gibbs Racing.* * * * *
BRAD KESELOWSKI -- No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion -- "We definitely had the car on the short runs, but just weren't close on the long runs. I guess that was kind of the trade off. We had a lot long runs here at Homestead, which is normally the case. If we could have got the long run speed to go with the short run speed we would have killed them tonight, but we just didn't have that."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE END OF YOUR TITLE REIGN? "A champion is forever. It might not be reigning, but you're still a champion forever. I'm proud of that. I'm looking forward to the opportunities in the future to become a two-time champion. It didn't' happen this year, but there's a long road in front of us, and in the meantime Jimmie is the champion, and congratulations to him and his team."
JOEY LOGANO -- No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion -- "It was hard-fought evening to say the least. It's such a difficult race track, especially when you're loose all night. We made a lot of adjustments all night on this Shell/Pennzoil Ford and it just wasn't getting any better. It was like we were barely keeping up with the track. We put like six rounds in the left-rear and took four or five out of the right-rear, track bar, rubbers, air-pressure, we did everything we could do and it would just get loose no matter what. No matter what we'd do it gets loose. We would fight ahead and maintain a little bit and finished eighth, so overall it was a solid day. I'm more impressed with our year. We did a good job this year and learned a lot about each other, and learned a lot about where we could have done a better job in races and where we need to improve next year and where to work on our cars during the off-season. It's been a pleasure to work with Todd Gordon and all these guys on this team. I had a lot of fun this year and this was my best season personally. I'd still call it a good season, not a great season. We were just talking about the opportunities we had to win and we feel like we had the chance to win five races and we capitalized on one of them, so that's a good area we can learn from and figure out how to limit our mistakes. I gave up a couple and we had some other mistakes that gave up a few too, so we've got areas we need to improve and we'll do it."
HOW CRAZY WERE THE RESTARTS TONIGHT? "It was awesome. I wish we raced here more than once a year, that's for sure. It's such a cool race track and such a fun track to race at and the way you run up against the wall. It's such a grueling race because you've got to be focused in so much and you don't want to hit the wall, but the closer you get to it the faster you go. It's wore out, tire management is big. We were out of tires. If a caution came out we were gonna be in trouble because we were out of tires, so that's pretty cool. That hasn't happened this year, so it's fun to be a part of races like that."
ARIC ALMIROLA -- No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion -- "That was a lot of improvement from what we've been running in the past, so I was really proud of my guys for that. We came with something a lot different than what we've normally been running, and we see some positives there, so I'm looking forward to the off-season and building off of this and getting ready for the Daytona 500."
CARL EDWARDS -- No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion -- "It was a frustrating race because we never really had any speed. I had a blast there at the end racing right on the fence, but it wasn't enough. This is the first time we've run that poorly in this race. This track is usually our bread and butter, so this style of track and this track particularly has been really good, so it's tough. That's the way it is."
WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE 48? "Those guys are amazing. They just prove year-in and year-out that you've got to work really, really hard in this sport. They work as hard as anyone, so they deserve this championship. They put the work in."