The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for the championship finale, so with the 2016 season coming to a close, we’ll take a look back at a race from Homestead’s past in this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater.”
This week, the focus will be on the 2005 Ford 400, a race that featured a championship battle still up for grabs, drivers making their last starts, and the closest finish ever at the 1.5 mile track.
Entering the 36th race of the 2005 season, four drivers remained mathematically eligible for the championship in the second year of the Chase. Tony Stewart held the points lead by 52 points over Jimmie Johnson and only needed to finish ninth or better to clinch the title, while Carl Edwards was 87 points back and Greg Biffle was 102 points in arrears.
In addition to the championship battle, Homestead would serve as the final race for 1989 Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace, as he would be retiring from competition after 706 starts in NASCAR’s premier series. In addition to Wallace making his last start, Ricky Rudd would be making his last start in the No. 21 car, Bobby Labonte would be making his last start in the No. 18 car, and Sterling Marlin would be leaving the No. 40 team.
“It’s been a great ride. It’s been over 23 years of racing and I had a great time. You guys are awesome. We raced hard together and I’ll never forget it the rest of my life and it means a lot. I’m looking at Todd, we had some great races there, and Dale, I know you’ve got a couple more years, but you’ll be right behind me. And Tony, you’ve been a hell of a personality this year, buddy, that’s for sure. It’s either going to be Carl, Tony, or Jimmie, or Greg. One of you four is going to get this thing and whoever gets it, do you’re damnedest to respect this sport because driving these cars is a privilege. It’s not something that we just do. Not many people get to do this and I’m grateful that I got to do it,” said Wallace in the pre-race driver’s meeting.
“I’m looking forward to life after racing. I’m looking forward to a lot of cool things in our sport and above. If I’ve roughed anybody up along the way, I’m sorry, didn’t really mean it unless it paid more. We’ll have a good time. You guys have a great race today. And the sponsors, and NASCAR, and the France family, thank you very much for 23 years of great racing and a lot of fun.”
Once the race got underway, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards led the field to green, with Edwards getting the jump on the start to lead the first lap and Newman taking over at lap two. Newman would lead 27 of the first 30 laps, which would include the first two cautions of the day. The first was a three-car incident involving Scott Wimmer, Denny Hamlin, and Brian Vickers on lap 17 and Kyle Busch cutting a tire a spinning into the Turn 4 wall on lap 26.
As the race went on, a new contender in Jeff Gordon would join Edwards and Newman in the lead, which included four more cautions between laps 45 and 127. Bobby Labonte spun on the backstretch on lap 45, David Stremme cut a tire and pounded the wall in Turn 4 on lap 90, Scott Riggs would spin in Turn 4 on lap 103, and championship contender Jimmie Johnson ran into trouble after he cut a tire in Turn 4 on lap 127.
After Johnson’s spin that put an end to his championship chances, the race calmed down for a while as Edwards reassumed the lead from Gordon to add to his laps led total on the day, but on the penultimate restart of the race on lap 170, Casey Mears made his presence known as he took over the race lead for 75 of the next 84 laps.
However, with 16 laps to go, a caution for debris changed everything. Dave Blaney stayed out on older tires, while the majority of the leaders took two tires on the final pit stop. Mark Martin was the first of those on new tires, followed by Mears and Greg Biffle. Blaney got the jump on the restart with 11 laps remaining and pulled away at the start of that final green flag run, but couldn’t hold off Martin’s No. 6 car and the advantage of fresh tires, ceding the lead over with eight laps to go.
As Blaney and Martin were fighting for the lead, Biffle saw the opportunity and took both of them three-wide to pull ahead of Martin down the backstretch. The Roush-Fenway Racing teammates pulled away from the rest of the leaders and were set to decide the race amongst themselves.
Off of Turn 4 on the second to last lap, Martin was able to pull even with Biffle down the frontstretch and even pulled ahead somewhat as the two entered Turn 1 for the final time. The two drivers stayed side by side through Turn 2 and down the backstretch, with Biffle taking a slight advantage through Turn 3 before Martin evened things up again off of Turn 4. Down the frontstretch, Biffle pulled ahead of Martin by and fender and was able to keep his No. 16 car in the lead all the way down to the finish line to give him a .017 second margin of victory, which remains as the closest NASCAR Cup Series finish ever at the 1.5 mile track.
Following Biffle and Martin to the line was Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, giving Roush-Fenway a 1-2-3-4 finish on the day.
“I’ll tell you what, racing Mark Martin like that. He’s a veteran guy. We’re going to miss Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd in this series. I’ll tell you what, they’re two icons and John Reiser, Robbie (Reiser) lost John this week. So excited to have National Guard, Post-It, 3M, everybody on board all year. These guys did such a great job. This car just wasn’t what it needed to be all night and it really worked out. Congratulations to the 20 team. They were troopers all year and I don’t know if it was going to come down to that loose wheel at Texas or not, but it was going to be awful close,” said Biffle.
“That was a great race. The race track is just in perfect condition. It was fantastic. I wanted to get a win for Viagra in their last race. I was so close, man. Congratulations to Greg Biffle. Congratulations to Tony Stewart. We had a great night. Man, it was close. I thought we were going to be able to pull it off, but we were just inches short. I guess maybe we needed another lap or maybe I’d have crashed trying, you know? I raced Greg hard and I raced him clean and vice versa. He was in front when it was over,” said Martin.
Tony Stewart did exactly what he needed to at Homestead and stayed out of trouble, finishing 15th and clinching his second Cup Series title.
“It’s pretty awesome. I’m just excited. So happy that I could get Zippy this championship and do it the right way for him instead of with the hell that I put this team through in 2002. Just a nice way to get it done tonight,” said Stewart.
“I put this team through a lot of hell. I mean, I’ve put this team through hell the whole time I’ve been with them, but they’ve never given up on me. We sat down at the end of the year last year and had a big team meeting just to see if I was even going to stay with the team, whether they wanted me back or not. Just had a heart to heart, and sometimes that’s what you have to do to get on track. It was nice to finally do one right and do it for Zippy. He didn’t want to win it the way we won it in 2002 and we won it right this time for him.”
“This is the icing on the cake for sure. To win at home at the Brickyard was a race of a lifetime and a win of a lifetime for me and to be able to finish it off with a championship, I don’t know how we could ask for a better year this year. This is absolutely perfect.”