It’s a championship battle that begins in February with every stop on its schedule playing an important role in which driver ultimately ends up hoisting the trophy as the series champion.
Points start accumulating once the checkered flag waves at the season opening Daytona 500 and continues to accumulate for each driver until the green flag waves to begin the final race on the schedule at Homestead-Miami. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were the four survivors of a long and grueling 35-race schedule that arrived at Homestead with the opportunity to win the title. Points no longer mattered as this was racing in its purest form as the highest finisher among these four drivers would leave Miami on Sunday night with the title in his grasp.
Just like in every season that this elimination format has been used to determine the title holder, it would take a trip to victory lane for a driver to be crowned the champion. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch took the checkered flag on Sunday and with it he captured his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Busch led 120 laps on the day on his way to finishing 4.578 seconds ahead of his teammate Martin Truex Jr. Truex led 103 laps on the day and looked as if may have been the driver to beat until he came down on pit road for a routine stop on lap 103. That is when the wheels literally fell off his championship dream as his pit crew put right side tires on the left side and the left side tires ended up on the right. That is a rules violation that forced him to come back down for an unscheduled pit stop that left him a lap down.
Harvick finished in fourth but was 14 seconds behind Busch at the line as his Stewart Haas Racing Ford was great on the short runs but began to slow on long green runs. His only hope was for a late race caution that could have put him in a position to challenge Busch but the race stayed green.
Hamlin entered the race as the only one of the four drivers without a title on his resume’ but rolled into Homestead with the most momentum as he had to win his way into the Championship 4 with a win last week at Phoenix. He was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop to remove tape from his grille that was causing his Toyota to overheat that took away his chance to clinch his first title.
The 34-year-old Busch becomes the 16th driver to win multi-titles and he joins Jimmie Johnson (7 titles) as the only active drivers with more than one title.
He also becomes the first driver to win multi-titles under the elimination format that NASCAR now uses to determine its champion. Sunday’s win in the Ford EcoBoost 400 was the fifth on the season for Busch and the first since the June race at Pocono. The win was the 56th of his career that broke a tie that he had with Rusty Wallace for ninth place on the all-time win list.
Earlier in the season, Busch also set himself apart in the sport when he won his 200th NASCAR race that included checkered flags in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, Xfinity Series as well as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He joined Richard Petty as the only drivers in the 200 club but has since past Petty as his win total across all three series now stands at 208 with his win on Sunday.
After the race, Busch dedicated the win to his “Rowdy Nation” of fans that have stuck by him through the years. He is in the prime of his career and he drives for an organization that is now dominating the sport which leaves you to believe that Rowdy Nation may be celebrating a few more titles before he crawls out of the car for the last time.