HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — James Buescher started in the middle of the pack, barely cracked the top 10 and never even sniffed the lead.
He caught a huge break when his Turner Motorsports teammate made contact with his closest competition, Ty Dillon.
No doubt, Buescher felt fortunate to end up celebrating a championship in Victory Lane.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Buescher said. “It was a little messy, but we did it. … This is definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done in racing.”
Buescher avoided trouble and finished 13th in the season finale Friday night, enough to win NASCAR’s Truck Series championship by six points.
Cale Gale won the 200-mile race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, edging Kyle Busch at the line as both trucks sparked after hard contact.
The more significant celebration, though, was saved for Buescher. It was his first title in four full-time seasons.
“It was close. Ty was giving us a run for it,” Buescher said. “I just about went in the fence myself, but I held it together and everything came our way.”
Dillon was in position to pull off an upset with three laps remaining — he was running second and just a point behind — but made contact with Kyle Larson. Both trucks hit the wall in the fourth turn and were mangled in the mess.
Afterward, Dillon questioned whether Larson should have been racing so hard because he wasn’t in the title hunt.
“I’m all right with the way things finished,” Dillon said. “We were trying to hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth, but it bounced off the wall.”
Buescher was far enough behind Dillon and Larson that he was able to drive around the wreckage that also collected Ryan Blaney. Buescher had a comfortable points lead over Timothy Peters when racing resumed with two laps remaining.
After the green-white-checkered finish, Buescher crossed the line five spots behind of Peters.
Peters finished second in the final standings.
“This race didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” Peters said. “You have to lose one of these to win one. We lost it, so next year hopefully we’re on the other side of the spectrum.”
It was Gale’s first win in 32 career starts. Busch, a Sprint Cup regular, looked as if he was the one to beat in the closing laps. But Gale left pit road with new tires; Busch had used all five sets of new ones.
And it showed.
Gale caught Busch on the final lap and passed him on the inside as they entered the third turn. The trucks made contact as they headed for the finish line, sparks lighting up the track, as Gale pinned Busch against the outside wall.
“I got drove into the fence,” said Busch, clearly upset with the outcome.
Gale had no regrets.
“It’s not my style, but I knew if I could pinch him a little bit I could get the advantage,” Gale said. “A guy like me, that’s my first opportunity to come down to the checkered flag in a NASCAR race. I mean, Kyle is a racer, he’s been in the same position I’ve been in, and we’ve all seen, all hungry racers get an opportunity they’re going to take it, and that’s what you have to do in this sport.
“He owes me, but I mean, I seen the checkered in the final race. That’s all I can say. … I race about as clean as anybody. But when it comes down to the final straightaway to win at Homestead in the last race and your first NASCAR win, I believe anybody would do it.”
The three-truck accident that set up the wild finish prompted a red flag that stopped the race for 10 minutes, 40 seconds.
Dillon, whose brother Austin won the Truck Series championship last year, was penalized for passing the pace car after the late wreck. He finished four laps back in 25th place and fourth in the championship race.
Buescher entered the tightest of NASCAR’s three title races with an 11-point lead over Peters and a 12-point advantage over Dillon.
Had either of those guys won the race, Buescher would have been in trouble. He spent the latter half of the race near the back of the lead lap. It turned out to be a beneficial spot — one that helped him win the championship.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.