HOMESTEAD, Fla. - In the most critical race of his season, with the laps winding down and the racing getting tighter, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. decided he was tired of listening to his spotter.
"He was getting on my nerves, so I keyed the mic [to block any incoming transmissions]," the repeat Nationwide champion said. "That's just how I drive."
"My concern was that Ricky would screw around and hit the damn wall while holding the button down," team owner Jack Roush smiled.
"It was only ten laps!" Stenhouse protested.
Stenhouse needed to only finish in the top 16 to clinch a win, and he did a little better than that, bringing home a sixth-place finish. But he freely admitted that he wanted another top-5 finish, and his subdued demeanor at the end of the race came about because, as he put it, "we didn't win the race. We didn't come to Homestead to run sixth."
Maybe not, but they leave Homestead with a much bigger prize. Stenhouse has established himself as the class of Nationwide, and he'll be jumping up to Cup next year to test himself against the sport's best.
Very few of those Sprint Cup drivers were in attendance on Saturday night. Kyle Busch concluded the Nationwide portion of what he called "absolutely my most disappointing season, bar none" with another loss, despite leading 89 of 200 laps.
In terms of the race itself, Regan Smith actually won, driving his first race for JR Motorsports and his first Nationwide race since 2007. It marks a respectable start to the JR/Smith union, and also marks an end to what has been a turbulent and emotional few months at JR Motorsports following the departure of both Tony Eury Sr. and Jr. Busch, Brendan Gaughan, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five. Dillon and Elliott Sadler had a chance to catch Stenhouse, but the champion never gave them a real chance.
And the awards weren't done. Joe Gibbs Racing, on the strength of Joey Logano's nine wins this year, won the Nationwide owner's title. And Austin Dillon officially won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, joining a couple fellas by the names of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle as the only drivers to win rookie of the year in both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series.