HOMESTEAD, Fla. – At the end of a fascinating battle that left fans in the stands standing long after the checkered flag, Martin Truex Jr. retained Kyle Busch for .681 seconds at Homestead-Miami Speedway for win the Ford Eco-Boost 400 on Sunday and his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
At Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last race in the No. 88 Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports, Truex – one of Earnhardt's closest friends – kept Busch behind him during a 34-lap green-flag lap the end.
"It's just overwhelming," said a weeping Truex in the Circle of Victory. "Think of all the difficult days and bad days, the days when we could not run the 20, be here, I never thought that would come that day, and being here is so incredible"
The victory was a timely gift for the owner of Furniture Row Racing, Barney Visser, who returns to his home in Denver recovering from a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery. It was also a gift for Truex's girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, who has been battling ovarian cancer.
"A lot of that was for her," said Truex, who won for the first time in Homestead and the 15th time in his career. "A lot of that was for me, a lot of this was for this team, I just do not know what to say, we just never gave up all day, we did not have the best car, I do not know how we won that thing, never give up. Go deeper. "
The victory was also completely appropriate. For most of the season, Truex was the series' main driver. Sunday's victory was the eighth of the year, the best series, and the seventh in 1.5-mile intermediate races. Truex had the No. 78 Toyota in the lead for 78 laps on Sunday, bringing his total laps in the season to 2,253, the best of his career, also at the head of the series.
With an excellent long race car, Busch dropped to fourth place after the final restart on lap 234 of 267 and needed nine laps to overcome the stubborn No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano. Seven laps later, Busch overtook other Championship contender Kevin Harvick in the second and set his sights on Truex.
Busch quickly closed, but Truex found a line that allowed him to maintain an advantage that was reduced to as little as two cars long. But Busch was never able to stand next to his teammate Camry, and Truex moved forward little by little in the last four circuits.
"I told my boys that we were going to dig deeper than we have today, and (with) 20 (laps) to go, I thought it was over, everyone was better than me in the long term all the day, "said Truex. "I just found a way, I found a lane I could use, and I found a lane that was blocking enough air to not be able to use it and make it happen."
"I can not believe it. I wanted it since I was little and I never give up. Just never give up on your dreams, no matter what happens and the type of shit you go through. And thanks, Barney. I wish you were here, friend. "
Kyle Larson finished third, closely following the battle for the championship after beating Harvick in third on lap 252. Harvick came home fourth, after the remains of David Starr's Chevrolet punctured the nose of the Ford No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I was very loose throughout the race," said Harvick. "When it got dark, we started to squeeze into the corner, and then they made a hole in our nose, we solved it and we just could not get it where we needed to be to do good times."
"Some races we fell down. Some races were difficult to enter. In the end we were too loose. "
Chase Elliott and Joey Logano ran fifth and sixth, respectively, tiebreaker Brad Keselowski finished sixth, finishing fourth in the standings.
Busch opted for a pit stop strategy during the final stage of the Cup Race and seemed to be heading towards the title until his brother, Kurt Busch, turned in Turn 4 on Lap 227 to take the fifth and final warning of the event and group the field for the restart on Lap 234.
"Yes, in the end it was not what we wanted," Busch said. "I thought we had a big race car, especially in the long races, we were really good, I just got there at the end, without having enough tires when I got to 78.
" So I abused my things, and I knew that I abused my things when I ran with the 22 (Logano) trying to have fun and I just worked too much, and I got to 4 (Harvick), I went by his side pretty fast I tried to make sure I could do that pretty fast to be able have at least a little more lifespan, but did not seem to pay me anything when I got to 78 "
NOTES: Earnhardt finished 25th in his final race in No. 88 Chevrolet … Danica Patrick cut a tire and hit the wall of Turn 2 on Lap 142 on his final trip at No. 10 Stewart-Haas Ford Racing She plans to compete in the Cup series for the last time in the 2018 Daytona 500 … Patrick also picked up Kasey Kahne in his wreck. Kahne ran his last race for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday and will move to the No. 95 Chevy Leavine Family Racing next season … Truex teammate Erik Jones was crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the series after finishing 21st . Jones will take the place of Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota next season. Kenseth finished the eighth Sunday on his last trip in the car.
Reid Spencer writes for the NASCAR Wire Service.