Carl Edwards did everything he needed to do to win his second straight Nationwide Series championship. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't enough.
Edwards led 66 laps and claimed the checkered flag in the Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway but still finished 21 points behind Clint Bowyer in the championship standings.
"That was a great win," Edwards said. "That was a really good race. I had a good time. Congratulations to Clint. They are a class act. It's no good to finish second in the championship but he will be a good champion for Nationwide. If I'm going to be beat by anyone, a dirt racer from Emporia, Kansas is the best guy to get beat by."
Edwards was looking for his second straight Nationwide Series title. He was 207 points behind Bowyer eight races ago but closed the gap to 56 points heading into the championship weekend in South Florida. He finished in the top five in each of the last nine races of the season, including four wins.
"Definitely it's frustrating not to win the championship this season; that's what we set out to do," Edwards said. "Over the past 15 races we executed and performed at a really high level. If we can perform at that level next season it will almost be worth learning what we did this year."
Edwards qualified second earlier in the day while Bowyer started 13th. Edwards dropped back a few spots in the opening laps of the season finale but stormed to the front and took the lead on lap 40. Edwards got shifted back in the field under the second caution of the day that came on lap 78 when Jeff Burton wrecked on the back stretch but took the lead back from Kyle Busch with 33 laps to go.
Bowyer led the points since late March, 29 straight weeks but came into today's race needing an eighth place or better finish to guarantee his first major series championship. He finished fifth and claimed the second driver's championship for Richard Childress racing in the past three seasons.
"It's just incredible," Bowyer said. "It makes you think back to how it all started. Working in a body shop in Kansas and trying to think of what your next move is going to be. To be able to win our first championship - I'm very proud to be able to do this for Richard. It feels like I finally had a chance and opportunity to give back to him."
Bowyer was the runner up in the series in 2005 and finished third in 2006. He didn't run the full schedule last year but still picked up a pair of wins. He went through a stretch of 18 races where he finished in the top-10 17 times and built up his points lead on the rest of the field.
"These guys did a good job all year long," Bowyer said. "We did the things that champions do."
He suffered through some anxious moments when the caution came out with nine laps to go. He was running fifth but held his position on the restart and picked up enough points to hold off Edwards and claim the championship.
"We've raced each other for a long time," Bowyer said. "We're both from the mid-west and he was last year's champion so it feels real good to beat him."
Joey Logano won the pole and came into the race with a 20-point lead over Bowyer's Richard Childress entry for the owners' championship. He finished 10th to give Joe Gibbs Racing the title. It's the third time in the past six years that the drivers/owners championship ended in a split.
Logano led the first 21 laps before giving up the lead to Jeff Burton, who started fourth but wrecked on the back stretch on lap 78.
Kyle Busch was looking to claim some history today as well. He was looking for his 11th win of the season which would give him the all-time record. He tied Sam Ard (set in 1983) for the current record of 10 wins when he claimed the checkered flag three weeks ago in Texas.
Busch started 11th and took the lead from Ryan Newman at the midway point of the race. He paced a race-high 71 laps before losing the lead to Edwards late in the race.
"We started a little bit behind this weekend," said Busch who finished second. "Unfortunately in that last run it was too loose and then all the sudden flipped the switch and it was too tight."
Brad Keselowski finished third and Jason Leffler finished fourth while Landon Cassill won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year despite not starting the series finale.
"I'm just so proud of my whole [JR Motorsports] team for working so hard for me this year," said Cassill, who ran his last race of the season last week at Phoenix. "I can't thank them enough for that."