Heading into the final race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead Miami, it was Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.) against Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. But after his dominant start to the season, it was Kyle Busch who came back around to take home the title.
NASCAR’s championship rules are a little different from what most people are used to in other forms of motorsport. Instead of the title being decided solely based on the amount of points a driver accrues over a season, both points and race wins are used as a way to determine which drivers move through four rounds of playoffs. Confused? You can read more about it here.
Basically, the final round of the championship consists of four drivers, with the title being decided based on who scores the highest in that last event. Easy enough!
Ahead of the race, all drivers in contention for the championship had secured five wins, with the exception of Martin Truex Jr., who had nabbed a very impressive seven. Busch was the only driver to have secured all of his wins prior to the playoffs starting, holding tight to his championship hopes as a result of a very dominant first half of the season. Based on win ratio alone, Truex Jr. was something of a favorite—but all four drivers are arguably pretty evenly matched.
The race looked to be Truex Jr.’s as he dominated the first stage, leading 59 of 90 laps and eventually coming across the finish line three seconds ahead of second place competitor Kyle Larson. The Richard Childress Racing cars looked to have the leg up on the rest of the competition. From that point, the four championship contenders stayed largely in the top five, swapping positions and also the lead.
Green flag pit stops on lap 120, though, threw a wrench in Truex Jr.’s plans. The pit crew erred, putting the wrong tires on the wrong side of the car. That saw Truex Jr. pitting again on lap 122 to rectify the mistake. While it didn’t ruin his race, it was certainly one hell of a downer knowing for the driver knowing that he had a damn good car.
Things started getting really interesting in the final stage, which kicked off with all of the championship four in the top five for almost the entirety of the final 100 laps.
A round of green flag pit stops began for the championship four on lap 210 to make the final adjustments that would carry everyone to the end of the race. At that point, Denny Hamlin had an overheating issue, forcing him to come back down pit road, thus ending his championship hopes. While he was able to return to the track, he did so with ill-applied tape way back in 19th place.
Kyle Busch’s lead grew and grew over Martin Truex Jr. as the final stage continued without caution. By the time he crossed the finish line, Busch was had led 120 of the race’s 267 laps, four seconds ahead of the competition.
Truex Jr. finished second, Harvick fourth, and Hamlin tenth.
This win secures Busch’s second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship—his first to come after a 21 race drought this season. He’s the winningest driver of the decade, and, as regular series champion, Busch has proved yet again that his skill is undeniable.