By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Finishing off one of the most remarkable comebacks in NASCAR history—indeed, in the annals of sport—Kyle Busch won Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and, with it, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Absent from the first 11 races of the season because of a broken right leg and left foot sustained in the NASCAR XFINITY Series opener at Daytona in February, Busch pulled away from fellow Championship Round driver Kevin Harvick after a restart with seven laps left and crossed the finish line 1.553 seconds ahead of the defending series champion.
“I don’t know if I understand life yet, but there’s something to be said about this year,” a jubilant Busch said after crossing the finish line.
Indeed. The victory was Busch’s fifth of the season, his first at Homestead and the 34th of his career. The championship was the first by a Toyota driver at NASCAR’s highest level. It was the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing with three different drivers, with Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) preceding Busch in that achievement.
Kyle and Kurt Busch, who won the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004, make up the second pair of brothers to win Sprint Cup titles, joining Terry (1984, 1996) and Bobby Labonte.
In his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, who was seeking a fifth series crown, finished sixth behind Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson to secure third place in the series standings behind Kyle Busch and Harvick.
Martin Truex Jr., the fourth driver eligible for the title in the Championship Round of the Chase, finished 12th on Sunday.
“It’s pretty unbelievable!” Busch said. “A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true… I just can’t believe it, with everything that happened this year and all the turmoil, all the things that I went through, that my wife (Samantha) went through and the people that are around me went through.
“This championship is all for these guys, my wife, my family, everyone who has had to sacrifice so much to get me here to this place today, whether it was on my team right now, or on my teams in the past. It’s really awesome, awesome, awesome!”
Busch was running third, behind Keselowski and Larson—and roughly 10 seconds ahead of Harvick in fourth—when NASCAR called the seventh caution of the race because of debris on the frontstretch on lap 257 of 267.
After all contenders came to pit road for fresh tires, Busch restarted second beside Keselowski, who chose the inside lane, with Harvick immediately behind Busch in fourth.
Busch held his own through the first two corners, cleared Keselowski down the backstretch and began to pull away. Harvick also shot past Keselowski’s Ford on the restart lap, but the defending champ couldn’t match Busch’s pace over the last seven laps.
“On the restart, I just knew, ‘Don’t spin your tires,’” Busch said. “If you spin them a little bit, at least get them reattached – don’t matter if you lose a little bit of ground to who’s in front of you, just make sure you have a good run getting into Turn 1 and keep Harvick behind me.
“Did all of those things, got to Turn 1 side-by-side with (Brad) Keselowski and, man, I just put it on kill and held it wide open through there and was able to get by Keselowski there. And anybody that got out front, especially on new tires, they could drive away, and it felt so good to be out there at that moment.”
The restart gave Harvick one last chance to defend his crown, but the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet couldn’t capitalize.
“I thought there at the end at the restart, we might do a little better than that,” Harvick said. “But, obviously, either the splitter was on the ground or the car was just tighter than it probably needed to be, and I just couldn’t hustle it and got it tight and got it up the racetrack and got behind.
“The 18 car (Busch), he just had the speed all night, for the most part. As the night went, I just couldn’t find anywhere that would make the car run better. The higher I would run, the looser it would get. I’d get on the seams, and then it would push the front and slide the back. Just never could find anything.”
Harvick, who won the final two races of 2014 to secure his first title, finished second for the 13th time this season. With his three victories, he finished the year with 16 top-two results.
“It’s been a great couple years, and I know we’re disappointed about finishing second tonight, but it’s kind of the theme of the year—finishing second,” Harvick said.
“Unfortunately, it’s just one short, but all in all, it’s been a great couple years, and I couldn’t be prouder of our bunch of guys.”
Note: In the final race for Michael Waltrip Racing, Clint Bowyer wrecked on Lap 45 and finished 43rd. Bowyer will driver for owner Harry Scott next season before taking over the No. 14 car at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. David Ragan ran 27th in MWR’s swan song.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Ford EcoBoost 400
1. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267, $351906.
2. (13) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, $290375.
3. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, $232541.
4. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, $184058.
5. (23) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267, $162383.
6. (5) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $153801.
7. (19) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, $139051.
8. (15) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267, $111890.
9. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, $129101.
10. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, $109090.
11. (7) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 267, $82040.
12. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $107860.
13. (22) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, $111206.
14. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267, $117801.
15. (21) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267, $112573.
16. (4) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $112315.
17. (6) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 267, $76040.
18. (26) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267, $120415.
19. (18) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, $93615.
20. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 266, $112048.
21. (17) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 266, $86940.
22. (16) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 266, $86590.
23. (25) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 266, $94448.
24. (35) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 266, $85990.
25. (28) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 266, $104010.
26. (33) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 265, $96498.
27. (38) David Ragan, Toyota, 265, $104254.
28. (40) Cole Whitt, Ford, 265, $88398.
29. (36) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 265, $103654.
30. (39) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 264, $77690.
31. (42) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 264, $76990.
32. (41) David Gilliland, Ford, 264, $90312.
33. (29) Michael McDowell, Ford, 264, $72565.
34. (31) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 264, $72365.
35. (34) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 263, $72165.
36. (30) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 263, $79940.
37. (37) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 263, $71711.
38. (43) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 262, $66730.
39. (32) Josh Wise, Ford, 247, $62730.
40. (9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 241, $78130.
41. (14) Aric Almirola, Ford, 209, $91666.
42. (27) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Accident, 104, $58730.
43. (24) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Accident, 45, $81388.
Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images