Kyle Larson took the checkered flag Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 300, but the true celebration belonged to Chris Buescher, as he clinched his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
Larson was dominant, as he led 118 laps in his first Xfinity Series win of the season and the third of his career, while Buescher ran a smart race by staying on the fringes of the top 10 all day.
Here is a rundown of Saturday's top 10 finishers, with full results available at NASCAR.com:
|Ford EcoBoost 300 Results|
|10||Darrell Wallace Jr.||6|
While Larson's run was impressive, Buescher received many of the accolades for taking the points championship, including a tweet from Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
Even though Buescher didn't win the race, nobody would have been able to tell that based upon his burnout after the event ended, as seen in this Vine courtesy of Xfinity Racing:
Buescher entered the final event of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season with an 18-point advantage over Chase Elliott. That meant he simply needed a solid finish in order to take the title, and that is precisely what he got in the form of an 11th-place result.
The following is a look at the final 2015 season standings, with Buescher occupying the top spot:
|Final NASCAR Xfinity Series Standings|
|Position||Driver||Car No.||Behind Leader||Wins|
|7||Darrell Wallace Jr.||6||-119||0|
Buescher had the luxury of a fairly comfortable lead entering Homestead, and he believed that would go a long way toward helping him close out a championship-winning season, according to Jeff Olson of USA Today:
I feel like we can handle the pressure at this point. We want to be here. It's not by accident. It's not something we've just backed into. We've earned the right to be here. ... We've earned the right to be a little bit more defensive this weekend. We've worked hard enough this season and we've done better than anybody else to get to this point, so we can go out here and we can race to make sure that we don't put ourselves in a bad position.
Buescher's analysis proved to be accurate, as his defensive posture helped him seal the deal, especially with so many Sprint Cup regulars dominating the top of the leaderboard Saturday.
As was the case last week at Phoenix, when he led 190 of 200 laps en route to victory, the early portion of Saturday's race belonged to Kyle Busch, as he led the first 27 laps.
Things were a bit different at Homestead, though, since Busch had some legitimate competition in the form of Larson. Both Sprint Cup stars ran the high line and left the rest of the field in their dust. They traded the lead on a few different occasions, which made for some exciting viewing, as seen in this GIF courtesy of NASCAR:
Larson led for a 61-lap stretch from No. 82 to No. 143, but Busch managed to keep him within his sights for the entire time.
Due to the fact that Larson and Busch were outclassing essentially every other driver on the track, it led to many cars getting lapped, including that of Buescher, per NASCAR Xfinity on Twitter:
That gave the likes of Elliott, Ty Dillon and Regan Smith some hope since Buescher would be forced to play catch-up.
Larson and Busch soon started to pick off Buescher's competitors as well, which made it difficult to gain any ground on the points lead.
In fact, by the time the caution flag came out on lap No. 116, Larson and Busch had remarkably managed to lap everyone in the field except Erik Jones and Austin Dillon.
Larson was so locked in that Jim Utter of Motorsport.com joked that literally nobody was safe from going down a lap:
After pit stops, Larson and Busch readied for a 50-lap sprint to the finish, and they didn't hesitate to test each for much of the stretch run.
Larry McReynolds of Fox Sports was among those who thoroughly enjoyed the duel between two of the most talented drivers in NASCAR:
Larson started to open up the lead a bit over Busch, but then the yellow flag flew with just 28 laps remaining. While it seemed likely that would tighten things back up, Larson actually caught a break.
Busch was penalized for an uncontrolled tire on pit road, which resulted in him being sent to the rear of the lead lap.
Meanwhile, Buescher pitted, while Elliott, Dillon and Smith stayed out. While taking the wave around would have put him on the lead lap, Buescher and his team felt it was more important to have fresh tires while protecting the points lead.
Buescher's risk paid off shortly thereafter, as he received the lucky dog pass onto the lead lap when Busch hit the wall with 20 laps remaining:
Busch had to settle for a disappointing 30th-place finish after running in the top two for most of the day.
The restart wasn't kind to Larson, as he was shuffled back to fourth place behind Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Jones.
Larson clearly had the best car on the track, though, which allowed him to move into second and put pressure on Dillon. That ultimately worked to his advantage, as Dillon touched the wall while running the high line, and Larson regained the lead with five laps remaining.
His charge to the lead was hugely impressive, and it prompted Sprint Cup driver Rickey Stenhouse Jr. to pay him a compliment:
The No. 42 car managed to close out the race with a victory, while Buescher held steady to cap off a championship season.
Few expected Buescher to win the title over stiff competition such as Elliott and Ty Dillon, but his season-long consistency paid off.
Buescher has now established himself as one of the top young drivers in NASCAR, and it should lead to a Sprint Cup opportunity in the near future.
If that chance doesn't come in 2016, though, Buescher has all the tools needed to build on this championship year with another in the Xfinity Series.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.