NASCAR Truck, Xfinity: best of 2016 honored at banquet
Daniel Suarez (left) and car owner Joe Gibbs (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
The best drivers, car owners and key personnel of the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series gathered at Loews Miami Beach in Miami, Fla., on Friday evening to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2016 seasons for both series that ended Nov. 18 for the Truck Series and Nov. 19 for the Xfinity Series during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For the Camping World Truck Series, the biggest honorees were series drivers’ champion, Johnny Sauter, and series owners’ champion, the No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota team of William Byron.
Sauter claimed his first NASCAR national series drivers’ championship in his first year with GMS Racing by winning four races in 2016. He opened up the season with a victory in the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway season-opener in February, becoming the first driver to lock-up a berth in the series’ first-ever chase. He remained alive throughout the chase, in part, by posting two additional wins, coming consecutively at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.
“I’ve got to be honest with you. I thought that winning a championship would make me feel a little bit relieved,” Sauter said. “But I feel more fired up about 2017 right now than I thought I would. Sometimes you like a little break at the end of the year. I feel like I’m ready to go to the race track right now. I really do. I feel that good about where we’re at.”
Meanwhile, KBM’s No. 9 team claimed top team honors on the strength of Byron’s record-breaking rookie season. From behind the wheel of the No. 9 Toyota in 2016, Byron notched seven wins, most-ever for a rookie in the Truck Series. He was eliminated from the chase, though, at Phoenix International Raceway, the second-to-last race of the season, by a blown engine.
Byron also was honored as the 2016 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year.
Byron’s seven wins contributed to a Camping World Truck Series manufacturers’ championship for Toyota. Toyota took two such honors during Friday’s awards ceremony, as it also was the 2016 manufacturers’ champion in the Xfinity Series.
In the Xfinity Series, the drivers’ championship and the owners’ title went to the same driver/team combination. Daniel Suarez drove the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the win at Homestead to claim a championship for himself and Joe Gibbs Racing. With the 2016 drivers’ title, Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a drivers’ championsip in any of NASCAR’s three national series.
“It really means a lot,” Suarez said. “As you guys can imagine, it was really a huge deal in Mexico and Latin America. Everyone was super, super excited about what happened. It was something historic. It was just something that a lot of people were waiting for, and finally, we got it done. It was something really cool.”
Suarez’s Homestead-Miami Speedway was his third-career win and his third win of 2016. He won twice in the chase, also winning at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. He posted a regular-season win at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Suarez’s fellow-chaser and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Erik Jones, was crowned 2016 Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year. It was Jones’ second-consecutive NASCAR national-level top rookie honor, as he also won last year’s Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year Award, in addition to winning that series’ drivers’ championship in 2015.
Jones led Xfinity Series championship-eligible drivers in wins in 2016, making four trips to victory lane over the course of the 33-race season. He was among the four drivers racing for the 2016 championship in the finale at Homestead.
Each series also announced its Most Popular Driver, determined by fan vote. Brad Keselowski Racing driver Tyler Reddick claimed Most Popular honors for the Truck Series. While racing veteran Elliott Sadler from JR Motorsports was named Most Popular Driver in the Xfinity Series. It was a second Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver award for Sadler. he also won Most Popular Driver in 2011.
“That’s a really good feeling,” Sadler said. “That’s a humbling feeling where fans will actually vote for you to be Most Popular Driver.”