It’s time to put a nice little bow on everything that went down yesterday in Homestead.
Kyle Busch found himself standing atop the sport as the winner of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and as the 2015 champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He was either running in the lead or in second for most of the evening. He led 41 total circuits of the 267 lap race and finished with a 136.0 driver rating.
When asked about the euphoria of winning the title, he said, “it feels amazing. You know, I don’t know that anybody could have ever dreamt of this year especially, but to have dreamt of my career path the way it’s kind of gone, it’s certainly amazing to have the opportunity right now to be in this position with Joe Gibbs and M&M’s and Toyota and Adam Stevens. For them all to prepare such a great race car for me tonight, to be able to go out there and perform in this format and to do what we did to end up in victory lane and to win this championship by winning the race was something special.”
I’d be remiss not to remind everyone that his season started with breaking his leg and his foot in a crash in the season-opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway in February.
Up until that time, the most reasonable timetable for his return was believed to be Daytona in July. When I brought this up to ESPN’s Bob Pockrass at the rainy tweetup prior to the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in April, he told me and the other five people there that Busch was aiming to return at the All-Star Race the following month.
On May 12, Busch made it official with a 24-second video on Twitter saying #RowdyReturns May 16. In his first ride since the accident at Daytona, he came home sixth.
The next week, Busch made his first Sprint Cup start since the season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead in 2014. He finished the Coca-Cola 600 in 11th. Erik Jones was on standby if he couldn’t run the entire race, but he completed all 400 laps and all 600 miles.
The next three races were not too kind to him, however. Despite a strong showing at the Monster Mile, he was collected in a late-race wreck with Brian Scott. He had a solid ninth-place finish the next week at Pocono Raceway. At Michigan, Kyle Busch was running in the top-10 when his car snapped loose exiting Turn 2 and slammed the wall.
After that, Busch was ready to throw in the towel and look ahead to 2016. Adam Stevens talked him off the ledge and focused him onwards.
When the Sprint Cup Series headed out west to Sonoma Raceway, the driver of the No. 18 car beat the dominant car of the race, driven by Jimmie Johnson, and took the checkered flag.
He said afterwards that the win was “awesome” and that he couldn’t “say enough about my team, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. I can’t say enough about my medical team that got me back in shape and ready to go behind the wheel. We have our work cut out for us, we knew we did in the beginning and I knew we put us in the hole in points. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had a couple crashes. I hate it for my guys, they don’t deserve to be in that spot. They have certainly worked hard all year long.”
In the debut race for the low-downforce aero package, Busch led 163 of the 267 laps to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
He said that the way he won was ” what we’ve got to do. Just to score as many points as we possibly can. To score those wins, that’s what’s going to get us to where we need to be. We led the most laps and we won the race, so that’s all you can score. We’ll just continue to push on and thrive.”
At Loudon, he led 96 of 301 laps on his way to winning the 5-hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He completed the trifecta at Indianapolis by winning the Brickyard 400. He was the first driver to win three consecutive races since Jimmie Johnson won four consecutive races in 2007.
I’ll get off Busch by addressing the elephant in the room. That elephant, of course, is the fact that Kyle Busch won the title despite missing the first 11 races.
A lot of people, fans and members of the NASCAR media core, questioned NASCAR’s decision to grant him a waiver from the rule that requires a driver to at least attempt to qualify for every Sprint Cup Series race in order to be eligible for the Chase.
If you feel that it cheapens his and every other driver that has won the title, I understand and sympathize with your judgement. With that being said, I have absolutely no problem with him being champion. NASCAR still required him to finish the 26 race regular season in the top-30 in points and win a race.
Given that he had only won two races combined in the previous two seasons, I thought it would be impossible for him to work his way into the Chase. I thought that it might’ve been better had he opted not to race the rest of the 2015 season and make his return in 2016. It’s good to see he didn’t take my advice because he clawed his way back and now reigns over the NASCAR world.
“Second — it seems like that was the theme of our season.” That’s how Kevin Harvick summed up his record-setting 13th runner-up finish of the 2015 season. It broke a tie with Bobby Allison who had 12 in 1972.
A statistically superior season to his championship season in 2014 wasn’t enough to net the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet back-to-back titles. While he finishes the season with half the wins he amassed in 2014, he finishes with 23 top-fives (63.89 percent), 28 top-10s (77.78 percent) and over two-thousand laps (2,294) led.
I can only imagine that this near miss will only increase his desire to win it all in 2016. I can’t imagine him not being a factor when the green flag flies on the new season in February.
The “underdog” was unable to prove a match for Busch and Harvick.
Martin Truex Jr. struggled most of the second half of the race and came home a disappointing 12th. It was enough to give the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet a fourth-place finish in the final drivers point standings.
“Obviously, it’s a little disappointing where we ended up,” Truex said. “We definitely didn’t come in here saying we’d be OK with fourth. We tried our best, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight. It’s frustrating to have a day like this because everything was on the line.”
With the 2015 season in the books, FRR will head back to Denver and begin their move to the Toyota camp. I hope this year wasn’t a one-time fluke and that Truex will be back to compete in Daytona.
After 23 years and 797 races, the curtain has fallen on the career of Jeffrey Michael Gordon.
Now I normally would go in finishing order, but I felt this would be a better way to finish this piece.
When the sun was shining, Gordon had a very good car. When the moon rose, his car became undriveable. He could only climb up to a sixth-place finish in his final race. It was enough to vault to a third-place points finish for the final time.
Being the final race for the legend, Homestead sent him off with one of the coolest card stunts I’ve seen in any sporting event. If you didn’t catch it when NBC showed it, here is a screenshot of it.
The now retired driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet finishes his career with 93 wins, 325 top-fives (40.78 percent), 475 top-10s (59.60 percent), 81 poles, 24,929 laps led, over 150-million dollars in earnings, an average start of 10.4, an average finish of 12.5, 581 lead lap finishes (72.90 percent), 698 races in which he was running at the finish (87.58 percent) and – according to Brock Beard at Lastcar.info – only four career last place finishes (less than one percent).
It’s sad that yesterday was his last start in NASCAR. Big Daddy Jeff is the reason I fell in love with NASCAR many years ago. Nobody ever wants a good thing to end, but all things must end at some point. Next year is only the beginning for Gordon as a broadcaster as he joins Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip in the booth at Fox. As a driver, to quote a famous George Strait song, “this is where the cowboy rides away.”
That about wraps everything up from yesterday in Homestead. It may be the offseason, but I’ll still be here all winter writing pieces for “The White Zone” whenever I have something that’s on my mind. Next week, I’ll do a week-long series where I’ll list what I considered the 10 best races of 2015 and the five most disappointing races of 2015.
Until next time, I’ll remind you we’re only 90 days away from the 58th running of the Daytona 500.