By AMANDA VINCENT
Kyle Busch collected two trophies after Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that was delayed nearly an hour-and-a-half by rain. Busch’s win of the race also garnered him the 2015 Sprint Cup in a season that saw him miss the first 11 races, sidelined by injury. It’s Busch’s first championship in NASCAR’s premier series and the first for Toyota.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Busch said. “A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true and something that only happens every so often. I just can’t believe with everything that happened this year and all the turmoil, all the things that I went through, that my wife went through and the people that are around me went through. This championship is all for these guys, my wife, my family, everyone who has had to sacrifice so much to get me here to this place today, whether it was on my team right now, or on my teams in the past. It’s really awesome, awesome, awesome.”
Fellow-championship contender, Kevin Harvick, finished second.
“We were just struggling all night, to be honest with you, with our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevy,” Harvick said. “We had a lot of trouble getting up off the corner and putting the power down. And the longer the run went, the looser that we would get up off the corner. We just want to thank everybody — Hendrick Engines, SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing), Outback, Mobil 1, Hunter Brothers and everybody who is a part of this car and who has been supportive of us over the last two years. It’s been a great couple of years, and I’m looking forward to next year. So, it’s fun to be able to run like this. You always want to win, but I’ve learned not to get greedy. After last year, I felt like we had everything go our way, and tonight, it didn’t go our way.”
Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, both eliminated from the Chase from the Sprint Cup a week earlier, finished third and fourth. Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.
“Well, I didn’t need that last caution,” Larson said. “It probably cost me or Brad a win, but it did make it somewhat exciting at the end. Disappointed that we didn’t get the win, because I really thought we were about two to three laps away from passing Brad for the lead (before the final caution). I don’t know. We will just go back next season and try to fight for some more wins.”
Jeff Gordon wrapped up his Sprint Cup Series driving career as a championship contender to the end, but fell short with a sixth-place finish in his final race. The remaining Championship Four driver, Martin Truex Jr., finished 12th.
“To drive for one of the best car owners, if not the best, and drive the best race cars and work with the best people, and that’s why I have the wins and championships that I have and why we did what we did here, today, in the final race, battling for a championship,” Gordon said. “Ingrid (Vandebosch, wife), she goes through so much, all the ups and downs and what goes along with this sport. We both said going into this race what an amazing experience this has been this year, the last nine years of our lives together and this day, surrounded by friends and family and the people that matter most and work hard on this race team and all the love I’ve gotten from the fans and everybody in this sport. There’s nothing better than that.”
Although no longer championship contenders by the final race, the Penske duo of Keselowski and Logano were up front the most at Homestead, with Keselowski leading a race-high 86 laps of the 267 that made up the race. Logano led 72.
“We led a lot of laps,” Keselowski said. “The last four races, we have run pretty strong, maybe not as strong as Phoenix as we wanted, but three of the four races, we were really strong and we just didn’t have enough to close it at the end. I was really proud of my team tonight, really happy with what they were able to give me, and we were able to take a run at it, we just didn’t quite have enough at the end on that final restart to hold those guys off.”
Keselowski led late in the race after taking the top spot on a restart that followed a lap 168 caution. He was running up front when Busch took the lead for the final time with seven laps to go. Harvick then followed Busch by Keselowski for second.
Early in the race, all four remaining championship contenders ran in or near the top-five. by by lap 50, Truex and Gordon hovered just inside and just outside the top-10. Truex used a two-tire pit strategy to get back up front during a caution early in the second-half of the race, but when the race restarted, he was quickly overtaken by cars with four new tires.
Busch and Harvick, though, ran inside the top-five throughout the race, and both led laps. Harvick ran up front for 46 laps to Busch’s 41.
Matt Kenseth finished seventh in his return from a two-race suspension, while Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson finished eighth and ninth. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin recovered to finish 10th after going two laps down early in the race because of a gear oil leak.
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