Just before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. embarks on a full-time career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he remains on the verge of a whale of a parting gift — his second straight NASCAR Nationwide Series title.
Stenhouse carries a 20-point lead over championship rival Elliott Sadler into Saturday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), meaning he’ll need to finish 16th or better to hoist the Nationwide trophy. Stenhouse led Sadler by a much more comfortable 41 points heading into last season’s finale.
“The 20-point lead makes us feel good,” Stenhouse said after running third last weekend at Phoenix, “but we’ve given up 20 points in one race so it’s not over till it’s over. We still have some work to do at Homestead, but it feels pretty good.”
For Sadler, heavy crashes in the third turn at Phoenix have been his late-season nemesis for the past two seasons. Last Sunday was no different, leaving him plenty of catching up to do at Homestead.
“I love the determination and the heart each member of the team has, and although we head to Homestead with a deficit, we are not out of this championship,” Sadler said. “We will fight until the end. We have to finish off what we started, and we are as prepared as we need to be to go out there and make it happen.”
If Stenhouse and Sadler both run into trouble, the door is open for rookie Austin Dillon — third in the standings, 25 points off the lead — to swoop in for the championship. Sprint Cup series regular Joey Logano will likely also be a factor at Homestead, but in the race and not the season-long title hunt. Logano, who has won three of the series’ last five events, will be going for his 10th win in 22 Nationwide starts this year.