Hornish started Saturday’s race from the pole and led 37 laps early in the race, putting the pressure on Dillon maintain the seven-point lead he entered the race with. While Hornish ran at or near the front, Dillon struggled mid-pack until the late-race caution flag on lap 178.
When several cars came down pit under the caution period, Dillon suddenly found himself right behind Hornish on the race track. Able to keep Hornish in his sights, Dillon managed to pull his way to a 12th place finish. Hornish finished ahead of Dillon in eighth, but it simply wasn’t enough to take the championship away from Dillon.
“We didn’t have the car tonight at all to run up there. It was probably the worst car we’ve had all year,” said Dillon, who also captured the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship while driving the No. 3 Chevrolet for his grandfather Richard Childress. “We fought. My guys kept me positive in the car. I knew I just had to go on that last restart. I’ve been criticized for restarts for a long time and that was a pretty good one. I just hung up against the wall there and tried to ride it out.
“I was just glad to see the 12’s (Hornish’s) back bumper. I knew if I could see him and know where he was then I wasn’t going to give up until the end,” Dillon said. “I actually had a great restart and tried to get the jump on him. It worked out for us. That is all I can say.”
Childress was crying tears of joy moments before the championship trophy presentation.
“We gave Austin a very good car and he just kept going. (Danny) Stockman (crew chief) and these guys never, ever gave up,” Childress said. “I’m proud of them. Just so proud of them all.”
Hornish, who at this point doesn’t have a job lined up for 2014, said the late-race caution flag and subsequent restart really hindered him.
“We missed it having that late-race caution. We were exactly where we needed to be,” Hornish said. “We got too free early on in the race to be able to run the way that we needed to and had to use a set of tires to be able to get the car handling the way that we should have.
“On the (final) restart the 54 car (Kyle Busch) spun his tires a little bit and we didn’t have anywhere to go. I couldn’t get far enough of those guys that had taken four tires. That’s just how it worked out for us tonight,” Hornish said.
Hornish was clear, however, that it wasn’t just Saturday’s race that cost him the championship.
“We gave away points throughout the season,” Hornish said. “Everybody on this team had a part in making us better and had a hand in us not being the best that we possibly could have been every day. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Despite losing the driver’s championship, Penske Racing did capture the owner’s championship thanks to a sixth-place finish by Joey Logano in the No. 22 Ford. Penske’s No. 22 Ford bettered the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota by a single point.