HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Tyler Reddick opened Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s first season in retirement with a victory and closed it with a championship.
Reddick won the Xfinity Series finale Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the championship for NASCAR's development series. Reddick was perhaps a long shot behind Christopher Bell and Cole Custer, but with team owner Earnhardt watching from his pit box, he drove away from the field.
The title for JR Motorsports is its second consecutive Xfinity championship and third in five years.
The 22-year-old opened this season with a victory at Daytona International Speedway in which he beat Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in NASCAR history. His next win was in the final race, when everything was on the line.
The massive Xfinity championship flag got caught under his tires during Reddick's celebratory burnout and he waved the tattered, burnt remains as he soaked in his feat.
Cole Custer won the pole and the first two stages of the race but his title hopes were dashed by questionable pit strategy that cost him the lead, the victory and the title. He finished second behind Reddick in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Daniel Hemric didn't contend at Homestead and finished fourth in the race, third in the championship standings.
Christopher Bell did briefly challenge but was passed by both Reddick and then Custer in the final stage. A late flat tire dropped Bell to 11th and he finished last in the championship field. Bell won a series-high seven races this season, the most for an Xfinity regular since Earnhardt Jr. also won seven times in 1998.
The Xfinity Series is where NASCAR's future stars are groomed and the championship field Saturday represented all three manufacturers, four different teams and four drivers in their 20s.
It was the final event for Sadler, a JR Motorsports driver who is calling it a career after 23 seasons.