Matt Kenseth has suffered through so much adversity this season — from losing his ride at season’s end to being eliminated from the championship due to a pit crew member’s mistake — that it was enough to bring the Cup veteran to tears of sadness.
Sunday, Kenseth actually broke into tears — but they were of joy, as he played the spoiler to win the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
“I don’t know what to say but thank the Lord,” Kenseth said to NBC’s Rutledge Wood with tears on his face after climbing out of his car on the frontstretch. “Just got one race left. Everyone dreams about going out a winner. So, we won today, no one is going to take that away from us.
“It was a heck of a race with Chase (runner-up Chase Elliott) there. … Thank JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for a great five years. It’s been quite the journey the last 20 (years, the length of his NASCAR career), but to the fans, I appreciate it.
“The way this year has gone, I really wasn’t expecting to win here today, but this is a special one.”
Kenseth then broke into tears slightly in victory lane as he celebrated his 39th career win.
“Quite a storybook ending,” Kenseth said. “I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for this to move on to something next year. But honestly, God made the decision for me, he put me here for a reason and is taking me out for a reason. It’s just been an incredible journey. There’s no way you could write it any better than this. I’m kind of a loss for words.”
After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.
He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.
Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.
Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.
Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.
Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.
Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.
William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.
The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.
Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.
Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.
Click here for the points results.
Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.
Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.
Click here for results.
HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.
“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.
Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.
“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’
Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.
“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’
Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.
“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’
Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..
“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’
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