As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the 2017 season, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski remained in the championship hunt. Each of the four had their headlines, while other non-contenders also had stories of their own. In the end, Truex concluded his most successful season to date as he drove off to his first career Cup championship.
Of the four championship drivers, Truex was the lone driver to have not won a Cup title, while the other three sought to win their second. Denny Hamlin won the pole for the race, while Truex led the four in qualifying with a 2nd-place qualifying effort, followed by Busch (3rd), Keselowski (5th), and Harvick (9th).
Meanwhile, news headlines revolved around Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick, all three of whom were making their final starts as full-time Cup drivers. Kenseth qualified 4th, Earnhardt 24th, and Patrick 25th, though Earnhardt changed engines afterward and was relegated to the rear. During pre-race, Earnhardt was greeted by every pit crew on pit road and led the field during pace laps before returning to his starting spot. For the race, Kenseth and Earnhardt ran paint schemes resembling their 2000 (their rookie year) cars.
“Woke up at 6. Made a pb&j and went back to bed. Woke up for good at 930. This is gonna be a weird day,” Earnhardt tweeted the day of the race.
Truex started the race on the inside line and quickly took off, clearing Hamlin in turn two to lead the first lap. After just five laps, Joey Gase brought out the first caution of the day when he hit the wall; Keselowski was the lone playoff driver to pit under yellow and restarted 13th on lap ten, though he entered the top five in just two laps. He moved up to 2nd when Kyle Larson, who also pitted, took the lead on fresher tires, while Ky. Busch dropped to 13th.
Jimmie Johnson hit the wall and cut a right rear tire, forcing him to pit on lap 38 (though no caution was called), with Kenseth, Truex, Trevor Bayne, Harvick, and Keselowski eventually following. During stops, Truex reported problems with his brakes and a tight race car, while Keselowski and Busch were battling loose cars. After the cycle of green flag stops, Larson continued to lead, while Johnson hit the wall on lap 67 and pitted again. By that lap, all four title drivers were in the top five and tailing Larson, who went on to win the stage. Behind Larson was Keselowski, Busch, Harvick, Truex, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Clint Bowyer.
The second stage began on lap 87 as Larson continued to lead, hoping to redeem himself after nearly winning the previous two races at Homestead. Six laps later, Harvick took the championship lead when he passed Keselowski, who fell to 5th. On lap 113, Busch became the new leader by taking 2nd. Keselowski pitted on lap 122 and Busch attempted to follow, but nearly missed pit road as he could not pull off the track quickly enough, while a slow stop for Truex hindered his progress. Harvick pitted a lap later and inherited the title lead in the process, though Busch eventually passed Harvick for the position. By the halfway point of the race, Busch led Harvick, Truex, and Keselowski as the four occupied 2nd through 5th.
On lap 142, Patrick got loose and hit the wall, and was hit from behind by Kasey Kahne, another driver running his final race for his respective team (Hendrick Motorsports). Patrick’s right front tire caught fire as she attempted to pull the car off track, ending her day. The caution set up a ten-lap sprint to the end of stage two, one that was won by Larson as Truex, Harvick, Ky. Busch, and Keselowski continued to round out the top five. Ku. Busch, Kenseth, Logano, Elliott, and Hamlin also received stage points.
During stops before the start of Stage #3 on lap 166, Larson lost two spots on pit road as Truex led the way alongside Ky. Busch. A good restart by the #78 allowed him to pull ahead of the #18 as Harvick joined the two in the top three. Keselowski, on the other hand, was in 9th after five laps; he fell out of the top ten by lap 192, and commenced green flag stops five laps later, with Truex and Harvick following. On his stop, Harvick’s crew patched a hole in the right front that was sustained as a result of hitting debris. Busch did not pit and lapped Truex momentarily; the two Kyles pitted in successive laps as Larson did so on 215 and Busch on 216, with the latter’s strategy of late pitting blowing up when brother Kurt spun in turn three on lap 228 to bring out the caution.
Truex won the race off pit road and Harvick joined him for the restart with 35 laps to go. Ky. Busch passed Harvick to take 2nd with 19 to go, while Keselowski became a non-championship factor for the remainder of the race. Larson took 3rd from Harvick with 15 to go and boded his time as Ky. Busch attempted to catch up to Truex. However, the Las Vegan was unable to do so as Truex pulled away to win his series-leading eighth race and the championship. Busch, Larson, Harvick, and Elliott comprised the top five, while Logano, Keselowski, Kenseth, Hamlin, and Ryan Newman ended their seasons with top tens. Earnhardt Jr. ended a storied 18-year career with a 25th-place finish.
It is Truex’s first Cup Series championship and first NASCAR national series title since he won the 2005 Busch (now Xfinity) championship, while also being the first title for Furniture Row Racing. His eight wins are the most by a driver since Hamlin won seven in 2010. The win marked a fitting gift for team owner Barney Visser, who is home in Denver, Colorado to recover from a heart attack and bypass surgery, as well as Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex, whose fight against ovarian cancer has been well-documented in the NASCAR world.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Truex stated Victory Lane. “To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that we couldn’t run 20th, to be here, I never thought this day would come, and to be here is so unbelievable.”
Overtake Motorsport congratulates Truex on his championship and would like to thank all readers for following throughout the 2017 season. We will see you at Daytona in 2018!
Featured image by @XFINITYRacing