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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series [NSCS]

NSCS Championship Kyle Busch Transcript
Kyle Busch Triumphs at Homestead-Miami Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We're going to hear now from our 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship team, and that's Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota. He's joined by his championship crew chief, Adam Stevens, and his championship owner, Coach Joe Gibbs from Joe Gibbs Racing. Certainly congratulations go out, as well, to Toyota. This is their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner's championship, and certainly congratulations go out to our friends at Toyota. Well deserved.

Kyle Busch, how does it feel to be the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion?

KYLE BUSCH: So far it feels amazing. You know, I don't know that anybody could have ever dreamt of this year especially, but to have dreamt of my career path the way it's kind of gone, it's certainly amazing to have the opportunity right now to be in this position with Joe Gibbs and M&M's and Toyota and Adam Stevens. For them all to prepare such a great race car for me tonight, to be able to go out there and perform in this format and to do what we did to end up in victory lane, and to win this championship by winning the race was something special.

You know, I don't know if it's all completely sunk in yet. I remember winning the XFINITY Series championship, and it took a little bit to kind of get in, and I'm sure we'll be feeling that here in a few weeks in Las Vegas.

But you know, this night tonight is certainly really, really special, and I can't say enough about all my team guys, everyone on this whole M&M's No. 18 team, everyone that's back at the shop with Joe Gibbs Racing, for building this awesome race car and all the hard work and everything that they continue to do each year, but more importantly through this year. To put all the Gibbs cars in the Chase and then to have us succeed all the way to the end is pretty special.

You know, it goes back a long time, too, with my family and my friends and everyone that's worked so hard over the years to give me the chances that I've had, and for me to make the most of them and to get to this point tonight, I don't know, it's pretty cool to be in this spot.

THE MODERATOR: Adam Stevens, your first year as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief, you win the championship. I don't know of a better way to be able to do that. Just talk about the thrill that you're feeling now. Certainly the team performed exceptional tonight, and you've got to talk about that and all the preparation. Talk about that if you would, Adam.

ADAM STEVENS: Well, you know, I'd be lying if I said I had any idea what we've even accomplished this year. It's just been such a whirlwind year. You know, it was very compressed from the time that Coach and J.D. said, Hey, we need you to crew chief a Cup car, maybe 16 or 18 months ago, and just so much work went into building the right team and getting the right guys together. A lot more work went into that than went into thinking about race cars.

But you know, we had such high hopes for the season and got off on a good start there early in Speedweeks, and then Kyle had his accident, and the wind was certainly taken out of our sails. I was just terrified that he was really, really in bad shape, but he saw his way back through that and got us on the right track, and thankfully we had a lot of help from Matt Crafton and David Ragan and Erik Jones and learned a lot in his absence, and were just ready for his return. He came back strong. So that's a testament to his hard work and dedication, and got us to where we're at today.

THE MODERATOR: And Coach Gibbs, you've won championships at several different levels, obviously, at the top of your profession. This has to be one of the best ones I would think, but just talk about what it means to win the Sprint Cup Series championship at Joe Gibbs Racing.

JOE GIBBS: It's a thrill. Been 10 years since we won one. And I think the thrill of this is everybody that gets to go with you, and I left some people out tonight, hey, Jimmy Makar, when we first started was our crew chief, ran everything at our place, and thankful for him and Patty, and then Todd Meredith, I didn't want to leave him out this time. He runs all of our present operations and everybody, all the hard work. Everybody back at the shop, obviously, all those people that get to go with you on a championship run like this.

And then we had all the firsts. It was a first for Toyota, which was a thrill for us. They've been such a great partner, and to finally get a trophy for them, for Toyota, I appreciate each and every one of them and all those guys that were here. It was a first for M&M's and Mars. Think about that. They've been in the sport 25 years supporting this sport, and this is their first championship, just a huge deal.

Obviously for Kyle and Adam, this is obviously a big deal, also, for them, and a first for all those people -- Norm Miller had actually one would before with Interstate Batteries, but for Norm to get to go with us on this, he was a big part of tonight. He's been such a friend and everything.

And then it's everybody, our family, I wish Pat, Coy and Heather, and Al, Case and Jet are not here, but all the rest of our grandkids and everybody is running all over the place. J.D., him being here was a thrill for me, all that J.D. has put into this over the years, it's just great for our family.

And I think it's hard to express because all those people that get to go with you in those relationships, that's the thrill about winning a championship. I'm thrilled to be a part of this. Nothing bigger in sports has ever happened to me, and so it's a thrill for me to be a part of this.

Q. Adam, for you, you said a second ago you were terrified that he was really hurt bad. Wasn't he really hurt bad? And Kyle, if you could explain sort of medically speaking, how bad was it and how difficult was the rehab?

ADAM STEVENS: Well, just for me real quick, you know, when we saw him get out and sit on the door there at Daytona in the XFINITY race, I mean, I didn't know what kind of shape his legs were in. I didn't know if it was going to be this year or next year or if he would walk again. I had no idea. I'm not a doctor and I wasn't there, and I spent five or six hours in the hospital with Coach and Jimmy and everybody trying to put a plan together and couldn't even get in to see him. I had no idea how bad a shape he was in.

But it was pretty clear a couple days later that he was on the road to recovery mentally, even if he wasn't physically yet.

KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, the recovery process or what all happened as bad as it was, I wouldn't recommend it, if you're looking to achieve a championship this way. It's certainly not easy, but it'll make you mentally stronger and physically stronger. I'd say that. This is certainly a lot different season than anybody would have expected to have happen for myself or this race team or anything in this sport.

But going through the rehab and everything, it was hard. It was really, really hard. I remember the first time Ken came over, and he says, All right, man, we're going to try to stand up today, and I was like, You're joking. It wasn't even that I could stand on one foot and just try to put weight through my other one. I had to stand on my broken leg and not put any weight on my left foot because the foot was worse. To just get vertical and get back straight up and down and try to stand, it took me three seconds and I started to see stars and was about ready to black out. We did that about three or four times and that was it for that day, and about two days later he came over again and we did it again, and I was able to stand up, and that time I stood until it hurt. Just the pain just going through your leg and everything that was going on.

You know, it's amazing, that was -- when was that? That was about 10 days after the crash that I started getting vertical. It's amazing how much you lose in muscle mass or whatever to just be able to do that again. You felt limp, like you had no control over anything down there.

We just kept powering through. Kept doing everything as much as we could, as quickly as we could, and you know, were able to power through and get back.

Q. Jeff Gordon was very complimentary of you. He said that you're more talented than him, but he also said it's at tracks like these where you would have a tendency to push too hard and take the right side off the car. I'm curious was it difficult today not to push too hard and take the right side off the car?

KYLE BUSCH: Not when you're got a car driving as good as mine was. (Laughter.)

Tonight, I mean, I was -- when we unloaded here and we started in practice, we were loose and we kind of -- a little out of control, but Adam was making some really good changes, and the car kept coming to me, kept getting better and better, and we got it to where we wanted it. I was really pleased in happy hour. I think man, we kind of got something. We weren't the best on the lap tracker but I remember wining California and we were 25th on the lap tracker, and Dave was worried as heck. I'm like, don't worry about it, bud. I got this.

Today was kind of the same thing. We were eighth or ninth, we were good, but I was actually shocked and surprised that the top didn't come in as much as we expected it to. I mean, Larson kind of got it going there. I think he was one of the only cars that could really make time up there tonight, but it took so long for it to get going that it never really paid off all that well, I guess.

But we worked on our car all weekend long just being able to work the bottom, the middle, the top and work all over this racetrack to make sure we had the drivability in it to be able to maneuver and be anywhere we needed to be and not just stuck to a particular groove. That really worked for us. It was really smart execution all weekend long, and really adjustments and calls by our team. Adam Stevens and our engineers and everybody did a really good job.

Q. You've had both positive and negative major life events in the last nine months. Aside from having a sweet new trophy, how are you different as a driver and as a man than you were this time last year?

KYLE BUSCH: I don't know exactly. I mean, it's probably more of a question for my wife maybe or Adam, but I just -- I don't know. I guess I feel more at peace a little bit. You know, I've always thought that I've been in this sport and been kind of -- not because of things that have been said to me but just because you feel like you're always fighting for a job. There's always younger, better people coming up through the ranks behind you. I was just like, you know what, if I am meant to be a race car driver and if I am meant to be champion, then I'll continue to be here for long haul. So I'll stop focusing on worrying about my job and just let it be. That seemed to help, but also just going through the rehab process I think just made me more mentally tough know that I can do physically and mentally, when you're doing some of those moves, you know, in therapy, when Ken wasn't with me he'd give me a list of things to do and I just had to do it. You don't know how many times I just wanted to stop and just be like, you know what, I'm not going to do the rest today. But I powered through it and did what I needed to do, did what I could do, but, you know, when Ken would tell me just do 10 reps of this at this weight, I was always like, I got more than that; I'm doing 12 at this weight.

It was just something that pushed me and gave me that drive to be, I guess, the man and person I am right now.

Q. Joe, you've won now more Cup championships than Super Bowls. Is it time for a new nickname? And what does it mean to have now found more championship in NASCAR than you did in the NFL?

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I appreciate that. Obviously, like I said, you can't -- the Super Bowls were awesome. It was a different role for me over there. I came over here, and I told everybody that over here I'm not the technical person. Some of the owners are. I'm not. And so my job is to try and help pick the people, and then I have the real thrill the 1st of every month of trying to pay the bills.

KYLE BUSCH: You and me both, brother.

JOE GIBBS: Don't give me that. He told me on the way over here in the car, I should have waited to extend my contract until after this (laughter.)

So anyway, but with J.D., the front office, everybody there, it's just a thrill for us and certainly for our family, got my grandkids in there. They're back there running around. We've got a second generation coming to the race shop, and that will be all those guys. So it's a thrill for us. It's a thrill for me to pay to be in two sports like that. I loved football and everything I got to do there is just a thrill for me, and then to come over here and have two great experiences -- you realize in life, most people never get one. They never get to have one, and I've had two.

And so believe me, I know how blessed I am, and I appreciate that, and I thank the Lord every day, and I thank -- I'm very thankful for having a chance to do this.

Q. Kyle, I know you said only 10 days in you were starting rehab, so were you ever concerned about your career, like you would even be able to get back in the car?

KYLE BUSCH: Well, just to clarify, it wasn't 10 days I started rehab. Actually it was, let's see, it was that following Saturday, so it was seven days after I started doing something. It wasn't much, but I just started doing something. It was 10 days when I started to stand.

What was the question?

Q. In that short period, were you at all -- were you ever worried about your career, am I going to drive again?

KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, initially for sure. When I had the crash and when I knew instantly that the right leg was broken, the left foot was broke, I was really worried. I was actually like -- I don't know if it flashed before my eyes or if I just thought it, but it was like, man, I'm going to have to go back to laying decals. I was like, man, I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to get back in a car again. I just didn't know how severe it was. But fortunately for me it wasn't that bad, and I was able to put it all back together and be here today.

But it did worry me for sure. You know, it crossed my mind. I was thinking, too, for Samantha and for Brexton, I was like, man, my wife is pregnant, I've got no job, so I was a bit worried.

But you know, I think that's just the sort of emotion that goes through in that particular moment, but past that, everything has kind of gone really well, and to be back in this place that I am right now is even better than I was before.

Q. Going back to the championship celebration tonight, normally when you're walking across a stage on a front stretch, reaction is decidedly mixed compared to tonight when it was all cheers. It seemed like it was really well-received. That might have been partially because --

KYLE BUSCH: You mean they weren't just saying my name tonight?

Q. Might have been also because they were tossing free M&M's and tee shirts. But it seemed like people really were excited for you and happy for you across all fan bases. Do you feel like winning this championship might change that perception that people have of you? Does becoming a champion maybe change things a little bit from that perspective?

KYLE BUSCH: Yes and no. I think becoming a champion doesn't necessarily change fans' opinion of you, but I think how you are the sport's champion will change perception of how people think of you.

I'm really optimistic and looking forward to being the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion next year and doing all the things that a champion is supposed to do, and maybe that'll change some more things about me. You know, who knows? But it's certainly been a whirlwind season this year, and I think there's been a lot of change in myself and my family and my team, but yet I think there's probably still more to go, and looking forward to that experience.

Q. When you made your comeback in NASCAR, they said, okay, here's what you have to do to qualify for the championship, and there were some mixed feelings like, boy, that's really impossible, a really difficult step for you to reach. Because it was such a challenge, was that a driving force for you?

KYLE BUSCH: I think it was, yeah, and actually as a matter of fact, when we heard all of that, you know, Joe went to bat for me, Toyota went to bat for me, everybody went to bat for me about how it wasn't fair.

But regardless of whether it was or not, you know, we set forth and did the path that was given to us by NASCAR to go out there and win races and score enough points to become championship eligible for this Chase for the Sprint Cup Series championship.

But I think the time in which it really set forth in me was after Michigan. You know, we had a couple of good races. We were going to finish top 5 our first night out at Charlotte, and pit strategy, race went green to the end and didn't quite work out that way. Somewhere else we ran okay.

Q. Dover.

KYLE BUSCH: Dover we were running third until we got caught up in a lap car. But regardless of all of that, we weren't finishing where we needed to be finishing and it was getting a little disheartening. So I finally was like, you know what, I need to give my team the best effort that I possibly can for the rest of this year, for Adam and all the guys, to prepare for 2016, and just get ready and know that, look, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen; it's not meant to be. I just had to put it in somebody else's hands, and that's how I raced the rest of the year.

We went to Sonoma, and man, we weren't the best car there and we weren't the fastest one there, but I put it in somebody else's hands and just did what I needed to do behind the wheel, the right breaks went our way, we got on pit road when we needed to, and we won that thing, and it was just like, um, okay. It sort of changed right then and there. It was really exciting for me and for Samantha and this team to know that our biggest obstacle that we thought was going to be the hardest thing for me to do this year was run Sonoma, we won. So it was like, you know, ain't nothing any harder than what we just did today, so we just need to keep striving on and doing the best we can each week and let things happen the way they will.

Q. Everybody understandably asked Jeff about his emotions before the race. What about you? Was it more or less business as usual, or were there any moments that kind of stick in your head right now?

KYLE BUSCH: It was pretty business as usual. You know, I've got to thank my sponsors, M&M's and Toyota and Monster Energy, Interstate Batteries, all of them, we asked that they let us do our normal deal today before the race and everything, and they gave us our space and just let us be and didn't make a mockery of our race car before on the grid. It was peaceful. It was good. And look at where we ended up.

So I feel like I owe all of them a "thank you" for giving us that chance.

But to me, it was business as usual. We got in the race car. Everything was good. I didn't have any nerves when we were racing with Jeff and Kevin, and I looked in my mirror and Martin was there. I think they were 1, 2, 3, 5 pretty early in the race, and Joey, one of the best cars all year long, was right there with us, too. I was like, man, it's going to come down to this, isn't it? Well, what better chance to win a championship than to have to beat all those guys.

So I just kept my head focused in the race and kept running my own race and did what I needed to do to stay up front the way we were. We had an awesome car on the long run. We had awesome pit stops on pit road that give us a chance to keep spreading our gap to Harvick there late in the game, and then that last caution there towards the end, of course everybody is like, oh, really.

But fortunately, you know, again, we came down pit road. It was in my guys' hands at that point whether we were going to fail or succeed, and they succeeded very, very well. They gave me a great pit stop, and then it was back into my hands from there on out from the last restart and the last part of the race.

Probably from like lap 60 to go I'd say, I guess it was like lap 200, I just had to start singing kind of a tune in my head about trying to forget about some things that were happening and thinking about what could be or what might be. I just kept singing my son's favorite cartoon character song. It was trying to take me out of the moment a little bit.

Q. What is it?

KYLE BUSCH: "Vocabulary." It's a three-minute little cartoon that Brexton stares at the TV and smiles and watches little bird, this little parrot that teaches words. So I was singing that.

ADAM STEVENS: Thank you for telling me that. I wondered what the hell you were saying on the radio when you were saying that.

KYLE BUSCH: My wife knew. You should have asked her.

Q. You've kind of touched on this a little bit, but how ironic do you find it that you get your championship in a year when you've had to overcome so much? You've had all these other years where people thought, surely you're going to get it and then it didn't work out that way, and then you've had all these things overcome and you finally do get it?

KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I guess years past we've had stupid things happen to us in the Chase, and it's eliminated us, but this year we still had a couple of those moments but we were still able to strive through and regain our strength and be able to make it through.

Obviously our biggest problem that came up was Loudon, but it was early enough in the Chase where it was still 12 guys that were moving on through, and it wasn't like -- I guess Logano at Texas, that would have eliminated him, I guess, if it wasn't for being able to win any more races.

But we had that, and then we had the Charlotte incident with Kyle Larson, but we were able to overcome both of those things. We went to Kansas, one of my most detrimental places of going to, I guess, and who would have thought Kyle going to Kansas would be a top 5 finish. Last two races I've been there, top 5, so we're good.

But yeah, the huge tragedy in the beginning part of the year, I guess, maybe fulfilled everything of past years in the Chase. But we got it out of the way early enough that we were able to have a smoother season at the end, and I finally won my first Chase race, thank you very much. Stop asking. (Laughter.)

Q. Adam, what was your strategy getting the car ready, getting the team ready for when he would come back? What were you thinking throughout that whole time that you would know that it would just be seamless when Kyle came back to race?

ADAM STEVENS: Well, you know, I don't know that you put quite that much thought into it. You know, I'm not real big on team meetings, but we did have one, and Joe called one, as well, and you know, I just told them to look at it as an opportunity.

We still have to advance, and we still have to make our program go forward, and we have to contribute to the success of JGR as a whole. The guys that chipped in, Matt and David and Erik, just did a tremendous job, and when you have somebody else in the seat, you get a different level of feedback, you get a different kind of feedback, and I think that helped us develop our setups and our notebooks in a way that maybe just Kyle driving wouldn't do. It has its pluses and its minuses. We didn't have the most top 10s or top 5s to show for it, but we had a few, and we learned something every weekend we went to the track, based off their feedback and their experience, so that was huge for us to move forward and be ready.

Q. Coach, obviously Kyle has enjoyed tremendous success in NASCAR, and a lot of people would say this was his one missing ingredient was a Sprint Cup Series championship, but as Jeff Gordon noted earlier today, he's only 30 years old, so now with Kyle Busch with a Sprint Cup championship, have we seen the best he has, or is there still, maybe scary for his competitors, even better to come?

JOE GIBBS: Well, I think when we talked about those past times that we missed stuff in the Chase and he fell out for one reason or another, I think a lot of that was us, the race team, broke apart. Last year we couldn't avoid that. It was just two cars hit us and we were trying to be real conservative. So I think in a lot of ways, he was ready, but our race team probably wasn't ready.

You know, I still remember the first time I ever heard about Kyle Busch: Coy was racing trucks, and I called him to say, Hey, how's it going? He goes, It's going pretty good, I'm kind of mid-pack, but there's some kid here in a truck, and he's two-tenths faster than the field. I hope they kick him out of here. He's only 16. I think he was cheating on that, so they did kick him out. That's the first time I heard of Kyle.

So at 30 he's doing pretty good. So I think we've got some years left here where -- you don't really know, it takes so much to get this. It really does. You've got to -- in pro sports, what you learn is if you've got a weakness, you're not getting there at the end. They'll find it. And in our case, pit stops, the car, Toyota, all they did for us, have a crew chief, everyone in support, that takes a lot of teamwork, a lot of stuff.

And so last year is a good example, our worst year, two wins, and our guys really started fighting last year, and I think last year probably propelled us to this year. '13 was a great year; '14 was awful. It shows you how hard our sport is, and so it takes total team effort, and you've got to have everything put together and you've got to have a great driver, obviously, to be able to win one of these. Really it's been 10 years since -- we've finished second and we've finished third. We've finished second twice, and it's just tough to get.

Q. Kyle, did you get champagne in your eyes?

KYLE BUSCH: Oh, yeah. It blew my eyelid open. It hit so hard.

NASCAR Xfinity Series [NXS]

NXS Race Recap: By Seth Livingstone NASCAR Wire Service
Larson dominates in Homestead XFINITY win; Chris Buescher clinches crown

Kyle Larson took out a season of frustration on the NASCAR XFINITY Series field Saturday in the season finale, tracking down Austin Dillon in the closing laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway by slightly less than a second.

Despite Larson’s dominance in leading 118 of 200 laps, Chris Buescher ran a clean race, finishing 11th to clinch his first XFINITY Series title. Buescher came into the race needing to finish 13th or better to guarantee himself the championship.

After winning a pair of XFINITY Series races last season, Larson, 23, had visions of qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year. Those hopes failed to materialize. He sits 20th in Sprint Cup points heading into Sunday’s season finale (3 p.m. ET on NBC). And prior to Saturday, although managing three top-five finishes, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum had gone winless in 13 XFINITY starts.

But Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet out of the Harry Scott Jr. shop was so strong on Saturday that by Lap 97, only three other cars were chasing him on the lead lap. Larson had opened a 6.7-second lead over early-race leader Kyle Busch (who led 62 of the first 79 laps from the Coors Light Pole) when the race’s third caution flag waved on Lap 117.

Busch’s threat fizzled when he was penalized for having a loose tire in the pits, then crashed after contact with NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum Darrell Wallace Jr. on Lap 182. On the final restart, however, Larson slipped to fourth and had to recover with a late race charge to catch Dillon. Both Larson and Dillon, seeking the speed of the outside line at Homestead-Miami Speedway, brushed the wall in the final laps.

“To win is really special, especially when you haven’t won in over a year in a NASCAR national series,” said Larson, admitting he wasn’t sure he could catch Dillon, who led laps 180-195. “There’s no other track that suits me like this track. I’m just really comfortable running up against the wall. I seem to always have good race cars when I come here.

“We’ve been frustrated a number of times this year. Some races, we haven’t had the speed we had last year. Also, we’ve had a lot of races where we were pretty fast, then had something happen to us in the last run of the races. It’s just been a really inconsistent year.”

When it came time to celebrate, however, Larson drove directly to Victory Lane, respectfully leaving the burnout to the XFINITY Series champ.

“This is championship week, so congratulations to Chris Buescher,” Larson said. “I wanted Chris to have his moment there.”

Buescher, who won races at Iowa and Dover this season, came into the race with a string of nine consecutive top-10 finishes, but played it safe throughout the day at HMS. Crew chief Scott Graves did make a pivotal call, electing to pit while other title contenders remained on the track for the final 21 laps. That put Buescher in position to claim the free pass, which he did moments later when Busch hit the wall. “We thought having fresh tires on it was going to put us in a better position,” Graves said. “We knew if we could be in the ‘Lucky Dog’ situation … we were basically going to be on even ground (with our competitors). With the number of laps that was left, we felt that was going to be our best option.”

“Our Fastenal Mustang had good speed in it, but we just had to be careful out there,” Buescher said. “It’s unbelievable for us to be able to pull it off. I’m not a ‘points’ racer. I don’t like it. But it was important (to finish) what we’ve been fighting for since February and Daytona.”

Chase Elliott, the defending series champion who is poised to take over the No. 24 Sprint Cup car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2016, finished eighth in the race and 15 points behind Buescher. Ty Dillon, seventh on Saturday, finished 18 points behind Buescher, and Regan Smith, ninth on Saturday, settled for fourth in points, 22 points back.

“We had an up-and-down season,” said Elliott, who won three XFINITY Series races in 2014 but lamented his ability to win just once this year (at Richmond). “They just outran us, fair and square. No reason to be upset about that. We just need to do a better job.”

Dillon recorded his 25th top-10 finish of the season but failed to win a race. He did finish in the top 10 in eight of his last nine races. Smith, runner-up to Elliott last season, ended the season with 13 consecutive top-10 finishes.

While Buescher gave Roush Fenway Racing Owner Jack Roush his fifth XFINITY Series title, the owner’s championship went to Team Penske's No. 22 Ford for a third consecutive season. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Alex Tagliani and Ryan Blaney—who finished fifth behind Erik Jones (Toyota) and Brian Scott (Chevrolet) in the Ford EcoBoost 300—all made starts in the No. 22 this season.

NASCAR Xfinity Series [NXS]

NXS Race Recap: By Seth Livingstone NASCAR Wire Service
Daniel Suarez Earns Sunoco Rookie of the Year

Team owner Joe Gibbs sees Daniel Suárez as a big part of the future – not only for NASCAR but for his team.

Part of the equation is about the 23-year-old’s talents as the driver who just earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Suárez moved up to fifth in the final series standings with his sixth-place effort in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But a lot of it is about how Suárez got to that point, advancing through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to become a factor in both the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series this year.

“It’s exciting for our sport,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think I’ve been in any business meeting the last five years where (somebody) didn’t say ‘We’ve got to reach the Hispanic market.’ It’s a big deal for us to have Daniel onboard.

“It helps me from the standpoint that I want to be a good partner in every part of NASCAR. We’ve been heavily involved in the (Drive for) Diversity program with a number of different guys. We think it’s good for our sport. I know it is. I think our sport belongs in every part of the market in America and I think this is a big step.”

Suárez is the first Hispanic driver and second Drive for Diversity product to win Sunoco Rookie of the Year in one of NASCAR’s national series. Although he didn’t win an XFINITY race, he won three Coors Light Pole Awards, recorded 18 top-10 finishes and placed second to Joey Logano at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It’s been a long journey so far, but a very fun one,” Suárez says. “We had a goal early in the year to get the Rookie of the Year, be strong and try to contend for some wins. We didn’t win, but we were close several times. We ran in the front. I don’t think it was a surprise to see the ARRIS No. 18 in the front, which for me was something really good.”

Suárez, has been fast ever since arriving on the scene from Monterrey, Mexico, where he was accustomed to open-wheel racing and road courses, not ovals. He was Rookie of the Year in NASCAR’s Mexico Series in 2010. Advancing to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing, he placed third in the 2013 standings with nine top-10 finishes.

But he’s also had a lot to learn – from mastering the English language to mastering how to handle NASCAR’s race cars and tracks.

“These cars are different,” he says. “They are so aero-dependent and to move around the race track, I’m not used to that. When I was racing in Mexico, you used to start in one line and I was used to staying in that lane. So, all this is new to me.”

Saturday’s race was a tribute to how far Suárez has come. After qualifying on the front row, he dropped all the way to 16th, a lap down, after his team was penalized for a loose tire in the pits. Clawing his way back into contention, he was one of only 10 finishers on the lead lap. His sixth-place finish enabled him to bump veteran Elliott Sadler (13th) from the fifth and final seat at Monday night's XFINITY championship banquet.

Still, Suárez, who gained additional experience by driving 13 races for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, knows he has a long way to go.

“There is a huge difference between racing fast, racing in the front and winning a race,” he says. “And this is one of the steps I have to make for next year. This was one of my goals for this year. I didn’t get that one. So in the offseason I am looking forward to working as hard as possible with my team to take that next step and win races.”

As for a chance to drive in the Sprint Cup Series, Suárez believes that will come in due time.

“I feel if I’m in the right place and with the right people to make that step at the right time,” he said, “But for now we need to focus on what we’re doing right now.”

His owner will be watching closely.

"We are really proud of Daniel,” Gibbs said. “He has done a fantastic job both on and off the track and I know ARRIS and Toyota are extremely excited to have him earn this honor.

“He has been consistent throughout the year but also showed improvement each week and that really showed up as he returned to tracks for a second time. He has put a lot into this and I'm just thrilled for him and his family, the team, and everyone that supports him, both here and back in Mexico."

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series [NCWTS]

NCWTS Race Recap: By Seth Livingstone NASCAR Wire Service
Crafton wins Homestead Truck race; Erik Jones claims series title

As strong as he was in winning Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200, Matt Crafton was already looking ahead to 2016.

Crafton, whose hopes for a third consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship were dashed by a crash at Phoenix last week, won his sixth race of the season, holding off John Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick in the season finale.

Although Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota Tundra finished 2.9 seconds ahead of Nemechek and more than six seconds ahead of Reddick, the 39-year-old veteran still wound up third in the point standings, 15 behind 19-year-old Erik Jones.

“I was having so much fun there at the end of this race,” said Crafton after his first career victory at HMS. “Six wins with as many laps as we’ve led--it’s been awesome this season. We just made too many mistakes. I made too many mistakes. … I promise one thing: It’s going to make us stronger in 2016.”

Crafton said he was happy to be able to “take the gloves off” and go all out for a win at HMS. “That was lot of fun,” he said. “It’s amazing what Junior (crew chief Joiner) can do with these trucks. On that last run, we hit a home run there.”

Ultimately, Kyle Busch’s eye for youthful talent paid off as Jones did what he needed to in becoming the youngest driver ever to claim a CWTS title (19 years, 5 months, 21 days) and first NASCAR Next alum. He also became the first to win a driver’s title for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“He put it to me when he beat me in a Super Late Model race,” recalled Busch, who will race for the Sprint Cup title on Sunday. “I tend to pick up on the talent of younger kids. Actually, the first time he raced against me, he blew my doors off, then blew up 40 laps later. I said, ‘Good. I don’t have to race (against) this one.’”

There was no blowing up Friday night.

Jones entered the race 19 points ahead of Reddick, his nearest competitor, and 32 points ahead of Crafton, the Keystone Light Pole-sitter. Making his first HMS start, Jones needed only to avoid trouble and finish 15th or higher to claim the series crown.

Jones, who notched three wins this season and has seven career CWTS victories, finished sixth in the race behind Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters. He qualified fifth and was content to race safely and efficiently, remaining in the top 10 for most of the race and avoiding any calamity on the track.

“I can’t think of a better way to repay these guys. I can’t think of a better ending than that,” said Jones, who expects to drive full-time in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing next year after parts of three seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“Eric’s done a lot of growing up in a short period of time,” Busch said. “I’m glad he stuck with me and our plan. I think he has a lot of bigger and greater things ahead on his plate.”

NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next alum Daniel Suarez appeared to have the strongest truck early in Friday’s race, charging from sixth to the lead. But Suarez slid up the track into the truck of Dexter Stacey on Lap 61, falling back to 15th, then found the wall again on Lap 83.

That left Crafton in position to dominate the race. He led 93 of the 134 laps, leaving NASCAR Next driver Nemechek (Chevrolet) and Reddick (Ford) in his wake to battle for second.

Reddick, driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, started fourth and advanced to second behind Crafton with 40 laps to go. But by then, Jones, who briefly slid back to 14th after a caution flag shuffle, had rallied to seventh, keeping Reddick, also a 19-year-old driver, at bay in the chase for the title.

“We were very consistent this year. I’m proud about that,” Reddick said. “We just have to move on to next year. I know what second place feels like and I really don’t like it too much. If I didn’t have enough reasons to win a championship, I’ve got one more.”

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