HOMESTEAD, Fla – Days before the Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kyle Busch said he’d dreamed of beating childhood hero Jeff Gordon to win the title. The dream came true Sunday as Busch won his first Sprint Cup championship, outracing Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in a one race, winner-take-all race for the title.
Busch clinched the championship by winning the Ford 400, a race that from the start looked like Harvick’s to lose. But as the race wore on, Harvick’s grip on the championship loosened. His car slowed while Busch’s sped up.
But with under 15 laps to go a caution came out, bringing Harvick back in the mix. Busch restarted second and Harvick was fourth. But there was little drama, as Busch pulled away from race leader Brad Keselowski and set sail for the title.
Harvick wound up second, Gordon sixth and Truex 12th.
Gordon, searching for a fifth title before his historic career came to a close, briefly took the lead during the first part of the race but after losing track position on a later restart, he never sniffed the lead again. Gordon hovered around the back part of the top 10 and complained of an ill-handling car. At one point he told crew chief Alan Gustafson that he didn’t know what the team could do to get the car to handle better.
After getting out the car for the final time, Gordon hugged team owner Rick Hendrick, then was joined by his family, as Busch celebrated behind him.
Busch missed the first 11 races of the season after breaking his right leg and left foot in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Upon his return, NASCAR said he would be eligible for the Chase if he was able to win a race and finish in the top 30 in points. With four wins in a five-race summer stretch, Busch easily got into the top 30 in points in 15 races. His Chase eligibility wasn’t a question mark.
Gordon came to victory lane to congratulate Busch. As the two embraced, Busch told Gordon he was so glad he got to race Gordon in his final race.
Gordon’s career was the focus of much of the pre-race buildup. A mob surrounded Gordon’s car as he stood next to it before the race and he took pictures with legendary driver Mario Andretti, Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and his family and team.
After the race, Gordon took a moment and talked to wife Ingrid Vandebosch and their children Ella and Leo. Gordon, 44, will move to the broadcast booth for Fox’s NASCAR coverage next season. He will be replaced in the No. 24 car by Chase Elliott, son of former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, in 2016.
Harvick was looking for back-to-back titles. The driver of the No. 4 car won the 2014 race at Homestead to win the title. But he simply didn’t have a car fast enough to stay up with Busch at the end. He tried to go to the high side of the track but couldn’t make the line work to gain ground.
Truex, who won earlier in the season at Pocono, briefly held the lead because of a two-tire pit stop. The strategy play didn’t work, however, and Truex’s car slid through the field as he was passed by cars with four fresh tires.
– – – – – – –