Homestead, Fla. — Chris Buescher never made a major mistake, never got rattled and never even tried to contend for a victory.
He gladly settled for a championship.
Buescher won the Xfinity Series title Saturday, helping offset the sting of an unsatisfying season in Sprint Cup for Roush Fenway Racing.
The 23-year-old Buescher won the championship by finishing 11th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, bringing home a fifth second-tier series crown for team owner Jack Roush.
“I was a little bit nervous, but all things considered, that was exactly what we needed to do,” Buescher said. “And we knew that and we knew we were capable of doing this. We made it through and now we get to celebrate.”
Buescher was the last driver on the lead lap and finished 15.9 seconds behind race winner Kyle Larson.
Larson had led most of the race early and cleared Austin Dillon for good with four laps left for his third career Xfinity win.
“I love this track,” Larson said. “I almost won the last two races here the last two years. It feels good to finally get it done.”
Dillon, the 2013 series champion, was second, followed by Truck Series champ Erik Jones, Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney.
Buescher needed to finish 13th or better without leading a lap to win the championship in Homestead. He also held off defending series champion Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon and Regan Smith, all within striking distance of knocking off Buescher.
Dillon was seventh, Elliott was eighth and Smith ninth.
In 33 starts in the No. 60 Mustang, Buescher posted wins at Iowa and Dover. He had 11 top-fives, and 20 top-10s.
“I’m not a points racer,” he said. “I don’t like it. It’s not the most fun way to run the last 10 races of the season. But it’s important. This is what we’ve been fighting for since February and Daytona.”
Not as well-known as his closest three rivals, Buescher held the lead this season for 23 straight weeks. He denied Elliott’s bid to go back-to-back in his final full Xfinity season. Elliott finished 15 points behind Buescher.
Elliott, the son of Hall of Fame inductee and 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, is taking over Jeff Gordon’s ride in the No. 24 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports next year. The team had to find a seat for him at NASCAR’s top level or risk losing the 19-year-old to another organization.
Elliott planned to keep a low profile on Sunday.
“I definitely don’t want to get in the middle of what they have going on,” Elliott said. “I’ll be one of the biggest 24 fans here tomorrow night to see them compete for the championship.”
Buescher, a former ARCA champion in his second full Xfinity season, joined Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and two-time champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as series championship drivers for Roush.
Roush had put at least one driver in the Chase every season since its 2004 inception before missing the playoffs this season. Stenhouse, Biffle and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne all struggled this season.
Roger Penske claimed the owners’ championship, and Chevrolet took its 17th manufactures’ title. Daniel Suarez won rookie of the year with a sixth-place finish.
Larson and Kyle Busch dominated the majority of the race and seemed poised for a hard battle down the stretch.
Busch, who led 64 laps, finished 30th after a pair of late-race mishaps — a loose tire on pit road, then brushing the inside wall — and crippled his push at the checkered flag on the same track where he’ll race for his first career Sprint Cup championship on Sunday. Busch posted the third-fastest qualifying lap, best among the Chase finalists.
Once hailed as the next big NASCAR star, Larson is winless in 74 career Cup starts and entered Homestead with two wins in 74 Xfinity starts.
Larson showed class after the win, refusing to participate in the celebratory burnout.
“This is championship week and this is all about, the champions. So congrats to Chris Buescher,” Larson said. “I wanted him to celebrate. It’s always kind of odd when I was sitting in the stands and there were two cars doing burnouts. I wanted Chris to have to his moment there."
Gordon's last hurrah
It’s a Hall of Fame career that includes four championships, 93 victories and more than $150 million in winnings. He’s got a beautiful family, a reputation as one of the good guys and a popularity that transcends NASCAR.
Now Jeff Gordon has a chance to write the ultimate Hollywood ending to what’s already an illustrious career.
Gordon will retire after Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he pushed aside a season of mediocrity and clawed his way into the championship picture. A win this month at Martinsville Speedway — the only victory of his 23rd season — put Gordon in the field of four who will race for the Sprint Cup title.
In this winner-take-all format, Gordon simply has to finish higher than reigning champion Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. to capture the fifth title that has eluded him for 14 years. Capturing his first title since 2001 in his final race would put Gordon in an elite group of athletes who went out on top: John Elway, David Robinson, Jerome Bettis and Bill Russell, just to name a few.
Asked where winning the title on his final day of work would rank in career that stamped him on the short list of all-time greats, Gordon was left speechless.
“Is that even a question? That’s crazy. I mean, that’s life changing,” he said. “I’m sure it’s been done in some sport, but I don’t think it’s ever been done in this sport. You know, right now I’m not even thinking and fathoming that. That’s too much for me to think about. I have no idea. It would be the best one I ever did, I can tell you that.”