Highlights of Intense 2016 Final NASCAR Race Weekend

By Joseph Conciatori
On November 28, 2016

Photo courtesy of Royal Broil, Wikipedia

The final NASCAR race weekend of the 2016 season saw all three of NASCAR’s national touring series - the Sprint Cup Series, Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series - visit the Homestead-Miami Speedway Track in Homestead, Fl. to determine the respective champions.

On Friday night, William Byron led the field to the green flag as Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell battled for the title of 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. The race’s first caution came at Lap 14, when Stewart Friesen spun out his truck; the second caution when Patrick Staropoli spun out on Lap 42. At Lap 92, Bell and Crafton were caught in a dead heat for position, not only on the racetrack, but also in championship standings. Sauter made his way past Crafton with 16 laps to go, assuming the championship lead. As William Byron and Tyler Reddick swapped the lead in the closing laps, Sauter never looked back which led him to win his first-ever NASCAR title.

Saturday saw the Xfinity Series determine its champion in the Ford EcoBoost 300. Again, four drivers - in this case, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler - faced off to determine the championship result. The cautions started early when Brandon Hightower spun his No. 13 Dodge on Lap 3 to bring out the first of many. On Lap 138, mayhem ensued as Ryan Reed (No. 16), Jordan Anderson (No. 46) and Jeremy Clements (No. 51) crashed; Anderson’s Chevy burst into flames as a result of the impact.

On Lap 144, Suarez assumed command on the restart. A caution came out with 42 to go for debris; Suarez’s fast pit stop gave him the race lead, which he never relinquished. Ray Black Jr.’s crash with 10 to go brought out another caution; however, Suarez never looked back, becoming the first Hispanic driver and the first driver born outside of the United States to win a major NASCAR championship.

Nothing, however, topped Sunday afternoon when Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch fought for Sprint Cup supremacy over 400 miles. This race was the 618th and final start for three-time series champion Tony Stewart, as well as the last race for first-year driver Brian Scott. It was a chance to make history as Jimmie Johnson entered the race with a chance to win a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup title.

Johnson was relegated to the rear of the field. However, he quickly sliced his way through the field, moving to 23rd by Lap 6. The first caution in the race came out when Ryan Blaney (No. 21) slammed the wall. As the race neared the one-quarter mark, Johnson had moved from 40th to fifth place. By Lap 206, Carl Edwards had moved back into the top spot in the points standings. One lap later, Ryan Blaney again found himself in the wall to bring out yet another caution.

When the action resumed, Joey Logano had retaken the number one spot in the points standings before losing it to Kyle Busch, the defending Sprint Cup champion. A rash of cautions would ensue in the closing laps, beginning with an accident involving No. 32 of Dylan Lupton with just 15 circuits remaining. Larson held the lead on the restart, which was short-lived. With 10 to go, Edwards saw his championship hopes go up in flames as he tangled with Logano, also involving Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith. The race was red-flagged, halting the action until the wreck could be cleared. Truex’s No. 78 Toyota erupted in flames; however, the New Jersey driver emerged from his car unscathed. Jimmie Johnson was now in prime position to secure his seventh championship.  On the restart with only two laps remaining in the 2016 season, Johnson passed Larson for the lead, driving away to his 80th career victory and joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as a seven-time champion of the Sprint Cup Series.

jconciatori@ramapo.edu

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