HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Las Vegas native Kyle Busch was a winner twice over in the Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale Sunday, claiming the race win and his first Sprint Cup championship.
“This championship is for my wife, my family, everyone who sacrificed so much this year to get me here,” Busch said after the victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “(Crew chief) Adam Stevens is my hero.”
Busch also overcame adversity to get to Sunday’s championship race. A crash in February’s NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway in Florida left Busch with a broken right leg and a broken left foot. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season before returning in May.
Championship competitor Kevin Harvick finished second, while Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.
“Well, I didn’t need that last caution,” Larson said. “It probably cost me or Brad a win, but it did make it somewhat exciting at the end. Disappointed that we didn’t get the win because I really thought we were about two to three laps away from passing Brad for the lead (before the final caution). I don’t know. We will just go back next season and try to fight for some more wins.”
Jeff Gordon, also a title contender, wrapped up his Sprint Cup driving career with a sixth-place finish. The fourth championship candidate, Martin Truex Jr., wound up in 12th.
“To drive for one of the best car owners, if not the best, and drive the best race cars and work with the best people, and that’s why I have the wins and championships that I have and why we did what we did here, today, in the final race, battling for a championship,” Gordon said. “Ingrid (Vandebosch, his wife), she goes through so much, all the ups and downs and what goes along with this sport.
“We both said going into this race what an amazing experience this has been this year, the last nine years of our lives together and this day, surrounded by friends and family and the people that matter most and work hard on this race team and all the love I’ve gotten from the fans and everybody in this sport. There’s nothing better than that.”
Team Penske teammates Logano and Keselowski were non-Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers who led laps. Keselowski was in front for a race-high 86 laps, while Logano led 72 in the 267-lap race.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Logano said. “We had a fast Shell/Pennzoil Ford that led a lot of laps, so I’m proud of the laps we led. We had a few good runs and made an adjustment that just took it out of the track, and by the time we got it back, we lost too much track position. We had a bad pit stop under green and lost more there, so it was too little, too late. We couldn’t redeem ourselves after a couple mistakes tonight.”
Keselowski took the lead on a restart just past lap 170. After a green-flag cycle of pit stops around lap 215, Keselowski cycled back to the front and led until Busch got by for the top spot on a restart with seven laps remaining. Soon after, Harvick also overtook Keselowski for second.
“We led a lot of laps,” Keselowski said. “The last four races, we have run pretty strong, maybe not as strong at Phoenix as we wanted, but three of the four races, we were really strong, and we just didn’t have enough to close it at the end. I was really proud of my team tonight, really happy with what they were able to give me, and we were able to take a run at it, we just didn’t quite have enough at the end on that final restart to hold those guys off.”
Early on, all four championship contenders ran in or near the top five. Truex, though, gradually faded to the back of the top 10, and after a lap-46 yellow flag, Gordon joined him there as he struggled with handling issues. Both also dropped a few positions outside the top 10 at times.
Busch and Harvick, on the other hand, ran inside the top five throughout the race, both of them leading laps, 46 for Harvick, 41 for Busch.
Busch was the first of the two title contenders to lead, taking the top spot by getting off pit road first on lap 19.
“We were just struggling all night, to be honest with you, with our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevy,” Harvick said. “We had a lot of trouble getting up off the corner and putting the power down. And the longer the run went, the looser that we would get up off the corner. …
“It’s fun to be able to run like this. You always want to win, but I’ve learned not to get greedy. After last year, I felt like we had everything go our way, and tonight, it didn’t go our way.”
Truex got back up front with a two-tire pit strategy during a caution on lap 169. However, when the race returned to green, he was overtaken by several cars that took four tires and drifted back outside the top 10.
Matt Kenseth finished seventh, Kurt Busch was eighth and Jimmie Johnson ninth. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin rebounded to finish 10th after going two laps down early because of a gear-oil leak that brought out the first yellow flag of the race inside the opening 20 laps of the race.
Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother, won the Cup championship in 2004.
NOTES: Richard Petty presented Gordon with a retirement gift of 93 dollar bills, one for each of Gordon’s wins, to go with the money clips he gifted all drivers upon his own retirement in 1992. Petty’s final race was Gordon’s first. … The Ford EcoBoost 400 was the final race for the two-car Michael Waltrip Racing team. … Matt Kenseth returned to action Sunday after a two-race suspension. … Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Ford EcoBoost 400. … Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday after leading more than half of the 200-lap race.