HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. left little doubt that he's ready for a promotion.
Stenhouse became the sixth driver to win consecutive championships in NASCAR's Nationwide Series. He finished sixth Saturday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, edging Elliott Sadler for the title.
"A lot of people put a lot of effort into this and I'm just the lucky guy who gets to drive it," said Stenhouse, who is replacing Matt Kenseth in the Sprint Cup Series next season at Roush Fenway Racing.
Stenhouse finished his final Nationwide season with six wins.
About the only drama in the finale was whether he would play it safe. He did, but not without a few close calls. His spotter even had to remind him several times over the final 10 laps to avoid potential pitfalls.
Stenhouse eventually obliged, but only after he held the push-to-talk button down on his steering wheel to drown out all the chatter in his helmet.
"I don't ride around," Stenhouse said. "That's not how we got in this position."
Regan Smith won the 300-mile race, his first victory in 103 Nationwide starts. He was making his first start since 2007, and he's going to race for the championship next season for JR Motorsports. This was his debut race with that team, which is co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and had not won a race since 2010.
"These guys worked hard all year long, and we're going to do the same next year and contend for a championship," Smith said. "That's our plan. Hopefully, tonight was part of a statement right there."
Kyle Busch was second, followed by Brendan Gaughan, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon. Danica Patrick was 19th in her final Nationwide race before moving to the Sprint Cup Series full time. She finished 10th in points, becoming the highest-finishing female driver in the history of NASCAR's three national series. The previous record was held by Sara Christian, who finished 13th in 1949 in the Cup series.
Busch dominated the race early, but couldn't get past Smith in the closing laps.
A year after winning 18 races across NASCAR's three national series, Busch went winless in Nationwide and Trucks in 2012. He was 0 for 22 in Nationwide, finishing winless for the first time since his 2003 debut year.