As it did in 2014, the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was decided by a race win Sunday night. Unlike last year however Kevin Harvick finished second. The title and the race belonged to Kyle Busch who took the lead of the race on a late race restart, won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and secured his first Sprint Cup championship.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Busch said. “A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true and something that only happens every so often. I just can’t believe 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.”
Busch had held the top spot among the four Chase contenders as the laps wound down, running second behind Brad Keselowski who had led the final 86 laps. The races eighth caution changed everything however. On the restart, Busch was able to grab the lead and hold off Harvick for his fifth win of 2105, the 34th of his career, and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
“I knew it was time to go,” Busch said. “I don’t know why Brad (Keselowski) chose to the bottom, but he gave me the top and I thought, ‘This is interesting.’ It did put (Kevin) Harvick behind me so I knew I just had to protect whatever Harvick tried to do if he was going to shoot the middle or shoot the gap or whatever it was going to be. Man, I don’t think I got hit, I think I just got a really good restart and then just got going. I don’t know if Brad spun his tires or what. We got to turns one and two and we were pretty even, I just looked into four and gave it everything I had those last seven or eight laps.”
Behind Harvick, Keselowski finished third, Joey Logano was fourth and Kyle Larson was fifth. Harvick the defending Sprint Cup champion, won the race last season to secure his first title.
“We were just struggling all night, to be honest with you,” Harvick said. “We had a lot of trouble getting up off the corner and putting the power down. And the longer the run went, the looser that we would get up off the corner. It’s fun to be able to run like this. You always want to win, but I’ve learned not to get greedy. After last year, I felt like we had everything go our way and tonight, it didn’t go our way.”
In his final Sprint Cup race, Jeff Gordon was never a real contender for the win of the title. He did stage a late race rally to finish sixth.
“Unfortunately I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t more of a threat for the championship,” Gordon said. “Beyond that it’s absolutely been a dream come true. To get an opportunity to race at this level, to have the success that I’ve had, to have the sponsors that we’ve had and to have the fans that we have. I told everybody before the race that no matter what we are going to be happy and celebrate. That is exactly what we are going to go do.”
The final Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. came home 12th.
“It was a big deal for us and for our team, for our owner, and for me personally to get this car this far and to have a chance to come in and battle for this championship,” Truex said. “It was a big deal for us and I wish we could have performed better today. I am not sure what we were missing, but we were missing something. Proud of my guys for the effort and proud of my pit crew as well but we just didn’t have the car when we needed it. Little disappointed, but proud of our season.”
Penske Racing teammates were the cars to beat for much of the race; Logano led 72 laps early before fading. His teammate Keselowski overcame an early race pit penalty for too many men over the wall. He rallied back, took over past the halfway point and would go on to lead a race high 86 laps only to lose in the end.
“We led a lot of laps,” Keselowski said. “The last four races we have run pretty strong, maybe not quite as strong as Phoenix as we wanted but three of the four races we were really strong and we just didn’t have enough to close it at the end. I was really proud of my team tonight, really happy with what they were able to give me and we were able to take a run at it, we just didn’t quite have enough at the end on that final restart to hold those guys off.”
The win and the title for Busch came eight months after Busch was in a Daytona Beach hospital after breaking his foot and leg in a horrific crash in the season opening Xfinity race. He would miss the first 11 races of the season but did what he had to do once granted a waiver by NASCAR.
“This is just so unbelievable, so amazing and means so much right here, right now and probably will for a long, long time to come,” Busch said. “But just the opportunity that the amount of people that have poured their life and soul into everything that Kyle Busch does and is about.”
Busch won four races after his return and celebrated the birth of his first child. He then raced his way inside the top 30 in points, survived the Elimination rounds and scored his fifth season win and his first title Sunday night. Busch said becoming a father changed his perspective.
“It sure did,” Busch said. “I’ve never dreamed anything so little could be so happy, but he’s such a cool little dude. He’s always smiling and always having fun, except about four a.m., that’s daddy time, that’s a little rough. It’s all worth it in the end. Samantha (wife) and I, for what she went through, what we went through this year and to have Brexton (son) this year is pretty cool on 5-18-15 – so cool to have him and have him be a part of all of this here tonight and to celebrate with his father. He won’t remember what this meant today, but maybe one day he’ll understand what it means.”
Behind Gordon, Matt Kenseth in his first race back after a two race suspension was seventh, Kurt Busch eighth, followed by Jimmie Johnson and polesitter Denny Hamlin. The championship was the first Sprint Cup title for Toyota and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing. The full results can be found here. The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will begin with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 21.