Who’s in the headline – Just eight months after severely breaking his leg and foot at Daytona during the first Xfinity Series race of the season, Kyle Busch stands above all others at the 2015 Cup series champion. Busch ran third and maintaining a healthy lead over Kevin Harvick as Brad Keselowski was headed to the win in the race. A caution with nine laps to go for a small piece of debris outside of the racing groove on the frontstretch resulted in a restart with six laps to go. Busch beat Keselowski on the restart and drove away to the victory.
What happened – The four drivers competing for the title were up front for the first third of the race. As the sun went down, the handle went away for Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Gordon made it back to the top 10 when the checkered flag flew, but he was a non-factor as the laps wound down. Busch started on the outside of the front row when the final restart of the night took place, beat Keselowski off turn 2 to secure the lead and then drove away to the race win and the title. Joey Logano led the race early.
Through pit stops and caution flags throughout the race Busch, Harvick, Gordon and Keselowski led substantial numbers of laps along with Kyle Larson, Carl Edwards and Truex. The biggest incident of the race occurred off turn 2 on lap 46, which started with Clint Bowyer getting into Ty Dillon. It eventually collected Dale Earnhardt Jr., Casey Mears and Aric Almirola. There were seven total caution flags, 18 lead changes among eight leaders and no on-track passes for the lead that did not take place on a restart.
Why you should care – The constant detractors of Busch claim he has amassed his win totals by racking them up in the support series of NASCAR. He is an NXS champion but had never taken home the big prize in the Cup Series. This was his 34th career victory, which puts him 21st on the all-time wins list in the Cup Series. By the time he’s done he’ll most likely be in the top 10. This title all but ensures that Busch will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
What your friends are talking about – The big buzz during the closing laps and following the checkered flag was the validity of Busch winning the title after missing 11 races to start the season. He had been given a waiver due to his injuries but still had to make it into the Chase by winning and being in the top 30 in points. Busch won four races and finished the regular season in 25th position in the points. It is fair to dislike the system and the fact he received the waiver, but there is no question that he earned what was necessary to qualify for the Chase and then did what was necessary to win the title. That included winning the championship race.
All of the talk before the final race of the season was the swan song of Gordon. The sport was on the verge of its explosion when Richard Petty took his final checkered flag of his career and Gordon saw his first at Atlanta in 1992. Gordon changed the sport in several ways, from increased corporate involvement to greater driver involvement in hospitality at the track. He broke the mold that said drivers had to come from the south and drive stock cars in order to get a shot at a full-time ride in the series. As he leaves the sport, it very well could be on the verge of moving toward a different horizon that could lead to another boom or a major bust. One thing is for sure: Every driver in the garage can thank Gordon for the lifestyle that they now enjoy because he was the impetus for its acceptance as a mainstream sport.
Questionable caution flags are frequently a debate in NASCAR these days, and there was certainly another one at the end of the race in Homestead. The caution flag flew for a small piece of metal that was low on the front straight with 10 laps to go in the race. While it was a piece of debris and it was technically on the racetrack, it was nowhere near the area of the track where the competitors were running who had a chance to win the event. The end result was Keselowski lost the race to Busch, and Larson, who was significantly faster and closing on the leader at that point in time, was robbed of a chance to get his first career win. While some people believe that anything on the racing surface should be grounds for a caution, the reality of it is that especially at that point of the event, the yellow should only come out for a more clear and present danger.
Who is mad – Larson was clearly upset at the developments at the end of the race surrounding the caution flag. After rocketing to the front and winning the NXS race late on Saturday night, he was poised to do exactly the same thing on Sunday. He ran down Busch, who pulled over to let him by, and was reeling Keselowski in by half a second a lap when the yellow flew. His car showed strength on the long runs, and a seven lap sprint to the checkers was not what he needed.
Keselowski has to be irritable as well, after losing a race that he was leading with 10 laps to go for the second time in three weeks. While he was most likely going to be passed by Larson had the race stayed green, Keselowski was first off of pit lane under the questionable caution. He chose to restart on the inside line, which ultimately let Busch have the momentum off of turn 2 that he utilized to get to the front and take the win.
Earnhardt Jr. came into Homestead feeling as though he had a strong shot at a win. He had the same car that was fastest for much of the Texas race and was starting in the ninth spot. He chose to take tires early on a quick caution which put him back in the pack. When Bowyer washed up and made contact with Dillon, Earnhardt was an innocent bystander. Instead of scoring a win and thinking what could have been were it not for the quick yellow at Talladega, he finished 40th with a torn-up racecar.
Who is happy – He may not have had the Cinderella ending that he’d hoped for but Gordon was competitive to the end of his racing career. The final win of his career was at his favorite racetrack four weeks ago. He finished in the top 10 at Homestead for a third-place points run, and he was surrounded by a myriad of people who loved him and contributed to his storied career. Gordon begins his broadcasting career in three months and will certainly have a multitude of stories to share over the coming years from the broadcast booth.
Edwards spent his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing learning the system and his team. In the end he scored two wins, made the Chase and walked away as the highest finishing driver not in the final four. Edwards beat Logano for fifth place by eight points. Edwards loves the low downforce package and will look to improve on this season’s results when it becomes the standard rules package in 2016.
The fans were at least somewhat happy on Sunday. The delayed start of the race pushed the end to a point where it would interfere with Football Night in America on NBC. The network told the amassed media that they would move the race to NBC Sports Network at 7 p.m. to allow the NFL pregame show to take over. The ratings for FNA dwarf NASCAR and most other shows on television, so anyone with a reasonable amount of logic had to understand the decision. Instead, the network elected to keep the race on NBC and also kept the Hot Pass running on NBC Sports for the length of the race. While the event was hardly a barn burner, it was great to see money lose out for once when it came to broadcast decisions.
When the checkered flag flew:
Busch won his 34th career Cup series race in his 390th start.
Busch is the 31st different driver in the 67-year history of NASCAR to win the Cup Series title.
This win was Busch’s fifth of 2015.
The victory was the first of his career at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch is 21st on the all-time wins list, two behind Matt Kenseth for the top 20.
Busch now has 154 triumphs across the three national touring series of NASCAR.
Harvick finished second for the 13th time in 2015. That is a record for the modern era of NASCAR, which started in 1972.
Harvick has 44 career second-place finishes which ranks him 12th all-time. He is four behind Lee Petty for 10th.
This was Harvick’s fourth top-two run at Homestead in 15 starts. Harvick has completed 4,009 of 4,010 laps in his 15 runs in south Florida. 2007 is the only race where he did not finish on the lead lap.
Keselowski wound up third at Homestead on Sunday night. It was his seventh top-three run of 2015.
Keselowski finished on the podium at Homestead for the second time of his career and the second year in a row.
This was the 44th time in his career that Keselowski crossed the finish line in one of the first three spots.
Brett Moffitt finished the race in 31st position. He was not only the Rookie of the Race but he was also announced as the Rookie of the Year.
Busch, Harvick, Keselowski and Bobby Labonte are the four drivers in history who have won an NXS and Cup title in their careers.
This is the first drivers’ title for Toyota.
Takin’ it to the Bank:
Cup winners this year have pocketed $11,904,520 in 36 races, while the last place finisher has taken home $2,764,504.
In the NXS Series it has been $2,369,457 for the winners and $431,392 for last place in 33 races.
After 23 Truck races the winner has $1,135,850 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $213,366.
What is in the cooler – Champagne, Budweiser and Monster Energy drinks. The season is officially wrapped up and the champion is Kyle Busch. While there was plenty of pomp and circumstance around the event, and thankfully it went the distance, it was another typical mile-and-a-half race with the current aero package. Thankfully it is the end of the line for it as the series goes to the low downforce package next season. The race also had the questionable caution at the end. As a result it gets two lukewarm Budweisers, as the iconic brand drops the checkered flag on its involvement in the sport for the near future at least.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next week you need to point your DVR at a local short-track race available online if you can’t attend in person. There are drivers across the country chasing the dream of being the next Busch and you can see them if you support your local racetrack.