By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
A grueling 36-race season saw Kyle Busch record five victories and lead 2,023 laps but fall less than one second short of earning the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Despite his best efforts over the 34-lap green-flag run to the checkered flag, Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Carmel Toyota crossed the line .681 seconds behind fellow Championship 4 competitor and Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch led four times for 43 laps and appeared to have the best car on the long-run in the late stages of the 267-lap event. After the fifth and final caution for a spin by brother Kurt, Kyle restarted in the third position behind Truex and Kevin Harvick. Busch would slip back to the fourth position and have to battle foe Joey Logano for several laps. After getting by the No. 22 Ford of Logano, Busch chased down Harvick and then gave his best effort to catch leader Truex. The 32-year-old Busch was able to get within a couple car lengths of Truex’s No. 78 Toyota, but wasn’t able to get alongside and battle for the lead.
“Yeah, I mean that’s what happens when you lose in this format, but we gave it everything we had,” Busch said after his fourth runner-up finish of the season. “We gave it our all, so congratulations to the 78 (Truex). They deserved it probably on every other race but today. I thought we were better. Doesn’t matter though. They were out front when it mattered the most.”
For the fourth consecutive season, the champion needed to win the race to earn the title. Even champion Truex concurred that he wasn’t the best car on the long-run on Sunday in South Florida.
“I can’t believe we got the lead. I can’t believe we kept it. We weren’t the best car all day long,” said Truex, who recorded his series-leading eighth victory of 2017.
“We fought it. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) had some great pit strategy and the caution came at the right time to get us the lead and then they put it in my hands and I had to hang onto it. It’s all I could do to hang onto that thing and find a lane that would work for me and the 4 (Harvick) and the 18 (Busch) were both better on the long run all day long. I just had to find something at the end and luckily was able to find a lane that was really good for my car, but also bad for them behind me and just worked out.”
While the caution benefited Truex, it was a detriment toBusch, who was also slowed by battling Logano for position over the final sprint to the checkered flag.
“Just unfortunate for us that that caution came out. It kind of ruined our race strategy and we weren’t able to get back to where we needed to be and then I had to fight way to hard with some other guys trying to get back up through there, but that’s racing,” Busch said.
“Battling with the 22 (Logano) there. Just wasting too much time with him. He held me up. He was there blocking every chance he got, so got a real buddy there, but that’s racing. That’s what happens.”