Truex, Jr. Takes Cup Championship With Homestead Win

Martin Truex, Jr. celebrates with his team after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship and the series season finale Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After nine months, 35 races and 237 laps, it came down to a nail biter for Martin Truex, Jr.

With Kyle Busch hounding him over the closing 30 laps, Truex, Jr. stayed cool under fire to hold both Busch and Kyle Larson at bay to score the victory in Sunday night’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

More importantly, the win gave Truex, Jr. the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship over Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

“We just never gave up all day long,” Truex, Jr. said. “We didn’t have the best car. I don’t know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep. I told my guys we were going to dig dipper than we ever have today and 20 to go I thought I was done – they were all better than me on the long run all day long. I just found a way. I found a lane that I could use and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn’t use it and just made it happen. I can’t believe it.”

It marks the first Cup Series championship for both Truex, Jr. and his Barney Visser owned team, which operates out of Denver, Colorado, far from the NASCAR hub city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid and just never give up,” Truex said. “Just never give up on your dreams no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through and thank you Barney (Visser). I wish you were here, buddy. Thank you, Johnny (Morris, Bass Pro Shops), all our partners this year. What can I say about this team? Cole Pearn, Jazzy, all the road guys, the guys in Denver – you guys are the best, man. They work their guts out for me and I don’t even know – this is unbelievable, a dream come true.

“I don’t even know. I couldn’t even talk on the cautions laps, so just really thankful, really grateful and thank you to the fans. We’re going to party it up tonight.”

In a season that saw Truex, Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team score eight wins overall and the regular season title, the night was far from dominant. While he ran in the top ten through the first two segments, he and his team worked on the handling of the car. Meanwhile, his title opponents worked within the top five, exchanging the Championship lead spot through the first 160 laps.

Ahead of them, Larson dominated the first two segments of the race, taking both segment victories.

In the final segment, the race and the title seemed in jeopardy for Truex, Jr. when Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team went with a strategy that would have him making one less pit stop than his fellow title competitors. When Keselowski hit pit road on lap 198 for fresh tires, most of the leaders, including Truex, Jr. and Harvick, followed.

But Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and several others made the call to stay out for an additional ten laps. That meant if the race went caution free to the end, they could go the rest of the way without having to stop, while those that stopped earlier would have to make an additional stop.

Once Busch and the others had made what they hoped would be their final stop, Truex, Jr. assumed the lead. As the laps wound down, several teams were getting ready to stop. But that all changed when Kurt Busch spun on lap 228 with a cut tire to bring out the final caution.

That put Truex, Jr. in the driver’s seat. When the leaders hit pit road, his pit crew stepped up to the challenge, getting the No. 78 Toyota off pit road first.

Martin Truex, Jr. (78) held off Kyle Busch (18) to score the victory in Sunday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the win, Truex, Jr. edged Busch for the 2017 series championship. Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

From there, Truex, Jr. held off several hard charges from Busch, who had to power back to second after battling with Joey Logano on the final restart. After fighting to hold Busch off for several laps, Truex, Jr. finally got enough of an advantage with less than ten laps to go to pull away to the win and his first career championship.

Busch held on to finish in second, but his disappointment was apparent.

“Yeah, I mean that’s what happens when you lose in this format, but we gave it everything we had. We gave it our all, so congratulations to the 78 (Truex, Jr.). They deserved it probably on every other race but today. I thought we were better. Doesn’t matter though. They were out front when it mattered the most.

“Just unfortunate for us that that caution came out. It kind of ruined our race strategy and we weren’t able to get back to where we needed to be and then I had to fight way to hard with some other guys trying to get back up through there, but that’s racing.”

Larson came home in third, with Harvick in fourth.

“We just got really loose and then got a hole in the nose and it started to get tight in,” Harvick said. “We got that fixed. We were pretty good on the next-to-last run and we were just really loose on the last run. I want to thank everybody on my Jimmy John’s, Busch Ford for everything they’ve done. It was great to have a chance. We were in the mix all day. Didn’t quite have what we needed at the end.”

Keselowski rounded out the Championship contenders with a seventh place finish.

“We ran as hard as we could and put it all out there and just basically didn’t have enough speed,” he said. “On the mile-and-a-halves we weren’t as good as the 78 (Truex) and 18 (Busch) and those guys. This last race coming down to a mile-and-a-half didn’t particularly bode well for us, but my team ran as hard as they could run.”

For three drivers, Sunday’s race marked either the end or the beginning of the end of their racing careers.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., making his final Cup Series start, was never a factor in the race, as he came home with a 25th place finish.

“I’m not sure what the feeling is,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “I didn’t cry until I was hugging Rick’s (Hendrick, car owner) neck. Man he’s been like a father to me with the things he’s done for me personally, and in personal stuff. He’s really helped me more than anybody will ever know. And he’s done that for a lot of people and so I will miss trying to make him proud. I know I will still be able to do things that will make him proud because he’s like a daddy. I’ll miss driving his cars and trying to make him proud on the race track.”

Matt Kenseth, who announced earlier this season that he doesn’t expect to be back in the Cup Series next season, turned in a eighth place finish.

“I didn’t think about much the last 20 laps except for trying to get by the 2 (Keselowski) car to be honest totally honest with you,” Kenseth said. “Obviously last week was a magical week or race – to win that race and then this week has been really fun. The pre-race stuff was really fun. I was glad Katie (Kenseth, wife) was able to get down here and all and having the kids here, my dad, my sister and everybody.”

Danica Patrick announced earlier in the weekend that Sunday’s race would mark the end of her full time Cup Series career, went out in a fiery crash on lap 149 when her car hit the outside wall. She would be credited with a 37th place finish.

“What I’m not looking forward to is I have to go sit in my bus and wait for everyone to get done with the race before I can go home (laughing). That sucks, but I think that what’s coming ahead is bright for me and for the way it feels, so I’m excited.”

Chase Elliott finished in fifth place, while Joey Logano, Keselowski, Kenseth, Hamlin and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Homestead-Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL
Ford EcoBoost 400 – November 19, 2017

1. (2) Martin Truex, Jr. (P), Toyota, 267.
2. (3) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 267.
3. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267.
4. (9) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 267.
5. (18) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.
6. (19) Joey Logano, Ford, 267.
7. (5) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 267.
8. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267.
9. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.
10. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267.
11. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.
12. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267.
13. (13) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 266.
14. (26) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 266.
15. (6) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 266.
16. (15) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 265.
17. (30) David Ragan, Ford, 265.
18. (20) Aric Almirola, Ford, 265.
19. (12) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 265.
20. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 265.
21. (14) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 265.
22. (8) Kurt Busch, Ford, 265.
23. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 265.
24. (23) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 265.
25. (24) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chevrolet, 264.
26. (32) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 264.
27. (22) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 264.
28. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 264.
29. (11) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 264.
30. (31) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 263.
31. (34) Corey LaJoie(i), Toyota, 261.
32. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 259.
33. (27) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 234.
34. (10) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, Brakes, 225.
35. (37) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 212.
36. (38) * David Starr(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 175.
37. (25) Danica Patrick, Ford, Accident, 139.
38. (39) * Ray Black II(i), Chevrolet, Too Slow, 49.
39. (35) * Joey Gase(i), Toyota, Accident, 4.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.9 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 02 Mins, 11 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.681 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.

Lead Changes: 13 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders: 0; M. Truex Jr. (P) 1-12; K. Larson 13-82; B. Keselowski (P) 83; K. Larson 84-121; K. Busch (P) 122-123; K. Larson 124-145; K. Busch (P) 146; K. Larson 147-161; M. Truex Jr. (P) 162-175; K. Busch (P) 176; M. Truex Jr. (P) 177; K. Busch (P) 178-216; M. Truex Jr. (P) 217-267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson 4 times for 145 laps; M. Truex Jr. (P) 4 times for 78 laps; K. Busch (P) 4 times for 43 laps; B. Keselowski (P) 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,2,18,4,78,24,41,11,22,14

Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,78,4,18,2,41,20,22,24,11

Top 4 in Points: 1. Martin Truex, Jr. – 5040 (8 Wins); 2. Kyle Busch – 5035 (5 Wins); 3. Kevin Harvick – 5033 (2 Wins); 4. Brad Keselowski – 5030 (3 Wins).

 

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