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Dillon wins Truck Series championship at Homestead

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(AP Photo/Terry Renna)

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Austin Dillon climbed out of his No. 3 truck and dived across the rain-soaked grass.

He took another header a few minutes later - on concrete. Yep, the youngster wanted to celebrate by planking on pavement.

"That's called the Superman," Dillon said.

It was the biggest chance he took all night.

All Dillon needed to do was stay out of trouble in the season finale and run like he has all season - near the front - and he would win the NASCAR Truck Series championship.

So he played it safe and ended up with the biggest milestone of his life. The 21-year-old grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress finished 10th in the Truck Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday night - good enough to win the series title.

"Tonight I played too much defense," Dillon said. "It worked out for the better of everything. ... When you're sitting outside the championship, you can take more chances."

Rookie of the year in the series a year ago, Dillon is the youngest champion in series history. He also stands as one of racing's up-and-coming drivers. He is scheduled to drive a full schedule in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in 2012.

"He handles pressure better than a lot of people his age," said Childress, who called the championship one of his most memorable, right up there with those Cup ones he enjoyed with the late Dale Earnhardt.

Johnny Sauter won the rain-shortened race, holding off Denny Hamlin just before the final caution dropped. The sky opened up with 15 laps remaining. NASCAR officials called the race a few minutes later. Dillon celebrated wildly, hugging crew members and his younger brother while splashing in puddles.

Sauter finished second in points, six points behind Dillon. James Buescher was third.

Dillon started the race 20 points ahead of Sauter and 28 points ahead of Buescher. All he needed to do was finish 16th or better to secure the title. He spent much of the race in the top 10. There was one moment of concern, when he fell to 15th following a restart. But it was short-lived. He quickly worked his back toward the front, staying out of trouble while passing several other trucks.

"When you get down like that, all you can do is drive back to the front," Dillon said.

Dillon watched "Any Which Way But Loose," the 1978 movie starring Clint Eastwood, to pass time before the race. It was a fitting title because he absolutely had to stay out of trouble.

Buescher, meanwhile, was in the middle of the chaos.

Harvick almost wrecked Buescher on an early restart and bumped him later in the same green-flag run. Buescher turned low to block Harvick on the restart. Harvick seemingly didn't like the move and rammed Buescher's rear bumper.

Things really got whacky on the next pit stop. As Buescher slowed to turn down pit road, Harvick tried to pass him on the outside. Buescher then turned into Harvick, nearly spinning him around.

"One of those deals," Harvick said. "He's got a lot to learn, and I was just thinking in my head, `Don't be Kyle Busch. Don't be Kyle Busch. Just do your thing.'

"Last week was a good lesson for me, too," Harvick added, referring to Busch getting parked for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a truck race two weeks ago.

Harvick finished third in his final truck race for Kevin Harvick Inc. He announced in September he was shutting down the race team.

Nelson Piquet Jr. was fourth, followed by Joey Coulter. Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Timothy Peters and Jason White filled out the top 10 ahead of Dillon.

Dillon was right where he wanted to be - higher enough to breathe easy and end up hoisting a championship trophy.

"It's amazing," Dillon said. "You get to spray champagne everywhere. It's the best feeling in the world."

Updated November 18, 2011

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