William Byron won the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series title Saturday by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300, which was the top result of the Championship 4 contenders in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Cole Custer captured the checkered flag in the 33rd race of the campaign for his first win of the year, but he wasn't among the drivers with a chance to become champion under the playoff format.
Byron edged Elliott Sadler (finished eighth), Justin Allgaier (12th) and Daniel Hemric (34th) to supplant Daniel Suarez as the series' titleholder.
Here's a look at the top finishers from Saturday's race (via NASCAR.com):
1. Cole Custer (00)
2. Sam Hornish Jr. (22)
3. William Byron (9)
4. Tyler Reddick (42)
5. Ryan Preece (18)
6. Brennan Poole (48)
7. Matt Tifft (19)
8. Elliott Sadler (1)
9. Michael Annett (5)
10. Ty Majeski (60)
Custer, who was eliminated from championship contention last week, dominated for most of the afternoon. He won each of the first two stages in impressive fashion by leading a lion's share of the laps, and his car was a step above the rest for most of the race.
The only thing that could have stopped him from winning was a late caution, and the yellow flag never waived after Lap 90, so he cruised to a 15.4-second victory.
Jeff Gluck commented on the bittersweet nature of the performance:
Jeff Gluck @jeff_gluck
Has to be bittersweet for Cole Custer to baaaaarely miss out on final four and then go out and dominate this race.2017-11-18 22:22:01
Meanwhile, the battle among the championship drivers was far more competitive throughout the 300-mile journey.
Hemric faded out of the spotlight during Stage 2 as battery trouble forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop and dropped him off the lead lap.
NASCAR on NBC spotlighted the end of his title hopes:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Trouble for @NASCAR_Xfinity Championship contender Daniel Hemric! He hits pit road after having an apparent battery issue! Watch the race NOW on @NBCSN or stream online here: https://t.co/WN6HYlfzeT https://t.co/t3DTGKAhdt2017-11-18 21:35:33
The other three members of the Championship 4 were all inside the top five on the leaderboard for an extended stretch during the final stage, though. It created the type of drama NASCAR anticipated when it switched the Xfinity Series to a playoff format last year.
Sadler passed Byron for the championship lead with 35 laps to go as Allgaier started to fade, which made it a two-car battle the rest of the way.
The 19-year-old rising star from North Carolina kept Sadler within striking distance and then made his move on his 42-year-old counterpart in the final laps.
NASCAR Xfinity highlighted the title-winning pass:
NASCAR XFINITY @NASCAR_XFINITY
.@WilliamByron takes the #Championship4 lead from @Elliott_Sadler! We've got just SIX laps to go! https://t.co/QLpJmlquBm2017-11-18 22:57:27
Any hope Sadler had of returning the favor was eliminated after he got tangled up with Ryan Preece, which allowed Byron to pull away and clinch the championship.
NASCAR on NBC passed along a look at his celebration:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
19-year-old @WilliamByron was ecstatic after crossing the stripe! He's the 2017 @NASCAR_Xfinity Series CHAMPION! #XfinityPlayoffs https://t.co/T1IZgM7IBS2017-11-18 23:05:17
Looking ahead, all signs suggest this is only the beginning for Byron, who's emerged as the most talented young driver in NASCAR. He'll make the jump to the Monster Energy Cup Series next year with Hendrick Motorsports, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make an instant impact.