Written by Adrian Beecher
Homestead, FL - Martin Truex Jr. drove a perfect ten final laps to hold off a charging Kyle Busch to win the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Championship with a 1st place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead–Miami Speedway. From start to finish it was a race of strategy and endurance as the four championship contenders battled for a place in the history books.
Here's how it all went down in the NASCAR Cup Series season finale.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole, but it was Martin Truex Jr. who took less than a half a lap to take the lead. Then it was Kyle Busch moving up from 3rd to 2nd right behind Truex Jr.
The first caution of the race came out on lap 5 of the race as Joey Gase in the #83 Eternal Fan Premier Milwright Toyota slammed into the wall in turn 1. Championship contender Brad Keselowski was the only Championship driver to pit.
Lap 9 saw the field go back to green with Truex Jr. out in front. The fresher tires, however, would show their advantage as Kyle Larson in the #42 Credit One Chevy moved into the lead on Lap 13. Following suit, Keselowski was able to make the pass of Truex Jr. on lap 14 for the 2nd place position after restarting in 13th from the 1st caution.
On Lap 47, Kyle Busch reported a vibration and a possible loose front tire and elected to stay out since green flag pit stops were already cycled. The decision was the right one, as by lap 67 Busch had moved up to 5th place just behind the other 3 title contenders.
Kyle Larson would win stage 2 at the end of lap 80. The four championship contenders filled in the remaining four top 5 spots. Brad Keselowski was in 2nd, Kyle Busch in 3rd, Kevin Harvick in 4th and Martin Truex Jr. in 5th.
The top 5 remained the same after yellow flag pit stops. On Lap 114 Busch made the pass on Harvick for the 2nd spot on the track and the top spot of the Championship 4.
As green flag pit stops cycled through in the middle of stage two, Kyle Busch struggled to get onto pit road and had to slam on the brakes to make it in, barely getting in below the orange pit road square avoiding a penalty. Martin Truex Jr. had a issue changing the back left tire, which forced a long stop for him. After the cycle, it was Larson still in the lead, with Harvick in 2nd, Busch in 3rd, Keselowski in 4th and Truex Jr. had dropped to 7th.
On lap 142 the caution came out again as Danica Patrick got free into the corner of turn 1, and slammed into the wall. Kasey Kahne in the #5 Great Clips Chevy, with nowhere to go, slammed into the left rear of Danica. Her car caught on fire in the right front, ending her day. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got the free pass, leaving 15 cars on the lead lap.
Danica described what happened after being cleared from the infield care center.
“I hit the wall in turn 3 and 4, creating a tire rub. Then blew a right rear tire in turn 1, or I think it was the right rear.”
This was Danica's last ride at Homestead-Miami, after announcing the Friday before the race that she would no long participate full time in the Monster Energy Cup Series or any NASCAR Series at all. In fact her plans were very direct and precise, race next season only in the Daytona 500, and then finish her racing career in the Indianapolis 500. Certainly not the way she pictured it, however better days should lie ahead in her "Finale", as both are track and races that she has competed to the highest of level.
We got back to the action with just ten laps left in the stage. There weren't many position changes after the caution, other than Truex Jr. moving up to overcome his earlier mistake. Larson would win the stage again, with the Championship 4 contenders following right behind him making up the top 5. Truex Jr. was in 2nd, Harvick in 3rd, Busch in 4th, and Keselowski in 5th.
However, after the yellow flag stops, it was Truex Jr. moving into the lead, with Kyle Busch in 2nd and Larson dropping to 3rd. Shortly after the restart, Playoff contender Kevin Harvick made the pass on Larson for the 3rd spot.
On lap 176 an intense battle for the lead saw Busch take the top spot and then on lap 177, Truex Jr. took the lead back, by just hundredth’s of a second as the cars went nearly nose to nose across the start-finish line. Then on lap 178, it was Busch taking the lead and pulling away from Truex Jr. by four car lengths and continued to grow.
Around lap 200 we saw green flag pit stops start to cycle and three of the championship four drivers took stops, Harvick, Truex Jr., and Keselowski. Kyle Busch waited until lap 216 to pit. It was the call of Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens to stay out so they only had to take that stop and they could make it the rest of the way on fuel. All the other three Championship drivers would still have to come back into the pits for another stop to make it on fuel. Thus, benefiting Busch as long as the race stayed green the rest of the way.
However, on lap 229, ironically Kurt Busch, Kyle’s brother, brought out a caution as he spun out and got backward in turn 3. After yellow flag stops, it was Truex Jr. in the lead, Harvick in 2nd, and Busch in 3rd. Keselowski was back in 6th as they got back to green flag racing.
That caution changed the strategy of the race into a 33-lap sprint to the finish. Kyle Busch was able to pass Harvick after a couple of laps, and then it was a 2-man race between Busch and Truex Jr. with the championship on the line.
With ten laps to go, Truex Jr. was only eight-tenths of a second ahead of Kyle Busch. However, despite the fact that Busch was able to quickly charge after him, a few times nearly passing Martin , Kyle just didn’t seem to be able to get the run that he needed to make the pass. Meanwhile, Truex Jr. was racing, what might be the ten most perfect laps of his racing career, to stay out in front for the win.
Kyle Busch described his role the final battle of the night on the track after the race.
“ I did try a couple laps to get the car under control and to slow it down and to get the tire back underneath me, so I lost ground, and there was only one way to go, and that was just to over-drive it. I tried to stay, and if he made a mistake or if he caught the wall or something like that, then I could try to pounce. But that never happened. He did a good job and got himself a championship.”
As the final laps ticked away, the white flag was flown from atop the flag stand at the start-finish line signifying that there was just 1 lap to go in the race. It was at only at that point that Truex Jr. recalls he knew he won the championship without a doubt.
"I just started crying. I couldn't even talk. I had no idea what to do. I literally held it together completely, 100 percent. I'm not even BSing you. White flag was like, all right, I've got this, they're done, game over. And I nailed the last lap exactly the way I nailed the lap before that, and literally as soon as I seen the checkered flag and Clayton started yelling, I was done. Like I couldn't think of anything. Complete junk. I don't know how to explain it. Water works. It's crazy."
With the victory, Martin Truex Jr. captures his 1st career NASCAR Cup Series Championship. The win at Homestead-Miami Speedway marked the 8th win of the season, a season that saw him and his entire crew overcome adversity after adversity in remarkable fashion in 2017.
Truex Jr.’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, who was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2014, had a recurrence and had to undergo surgery in July. Martin’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, lost his best friend in August. In October, the Furniture Row Racing team lost crewmember Jim Watson who died of a heart attack the night before the race in Kansas. Then on November 6th, co-owner of the Furniture Racing team, Barney Visser, had to have bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack two days before.
After the win, Truex Jr. put his head into his hands and just took in the moment; thinking of all the team had overcome to get to this point.
“This means the world. Barney Visser, 11 years of working towards this goal. He couldn’t be here tonight. We’re definitely thinking of him. Definitely, wish he could be here. I know he’s probably about as much in shock as I am. But Jim Watson, Cole’s best friend, Sherry, everybody battling something, this one’s for you guys.”
©2012-2017 TheSkyBoat.com Inc.
An IRS Registered 501c(3) Not for Profit Organization
"The New Media Wave".
All rights reserved.