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Nationwide Series awards: Elliott is driver of the year

Here’s a look back at the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series season:

Driver of the year

Others won more races, but Chase Elliott’s fulltime season debut in the Nationwide Series was certainly one to remember. He racked up three wins – at Texas, Darlington, S.C., and Chicagoland; won two poles – at Atlanta and Charlotte; and ended the year winning the series championship and rookie of the year honors. In 33 races for JR Motorsports, he had 26 top-10 finishes with an average start of 8.3 and average finish of 8.0. And his career is just getting started.

At the age of 18 years, 11 months and 18 days, Elliott also became the youngest driver to win a championship in any of NASCAR’s three national series.

Team of the year

For the second consecutive season, Team Penske’s No. 22 team won the series’ owner’s championship. The 2014 effort included five different drivers – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Alex Tagliani and Michael McDowell – who combined to win six races and earn 25 top-five finishes in 33 starts.

Runner-up team of the year

JR Motorsports had a break-through season, earning its first series championship with Elliott and having two of its drivers (Elliott and Regan Smith) finish first and second, respectively, in the series standings.

Race of the year

There were several good candidates this season, but one of the most impressive performances came in Elliott’s victory at Darlington, never a track kind to rookies and even some veterans. Elliott started sixth on a restart with two laps remaining in the race and made it to second on the start of the final lap. He then overtook leader Elliott Sadler on the final lap to pull off the stunning victory.

Runner-up race of the year

Brendan Gaughan seems to perform best when he has to overcome the most obstacles. There were certainly many in the June 21 race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. – he went off course twice and needed to make an unscheduled pit stop to clean his grille of debris. But at the finish, it was Gaughan holding off Tagliani in a two-lap overtime to win his first NASCAR national series race in 98 starts.

Quote of the year

“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a race in anything.” – Matt Kenseth

Kenseth, who led the Sprint Cup Series with seven victories in 2013, picked up his only NASCAR win of the 2014 season in the Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead, Fla.

Biggest news

On Sept. 3, NASCAR announced Comcast’s Xfinity brand had signed a 10-year agreement to become the new title sponsor of what is now the Nationwide Series beginning with the 2015 season. Xfinity becomes only the third title sponsor in series history (following Anheuser-Busch and Nationwide).

Biggest surprise win

Chris Buescher began his rookie season failing to make the field for the series opener at Daytona, but by late in the season he was finally able to show his potential. At the Aug. 16 road course race at Mid-Ohio, Buescher conserved enough fuel late in the event to hold off veterans Regan Smith and Brian Scott to earn his first series victory.

Keep an eye on …

In one of the biggest surprises already in the offseason, Darrell Wallace Jr., who won four races and finished third in the Truck series standings in 2014, asked for and received a release from his contract from Joe Gibbs Racing. Wallace will move to Roush Fenway Racing in 2015 and compete in what will be the Xfinity Series with teammates Sadler, Buescher and Ryan Reed.

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