Kyle Busch wins first NASCAR championship at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, FL (WSFA) - Kyle Busch completed his remarkable comeback season Sunday with a win in the Ford Ecoboost 400 to seal the Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami.
Kevin Harvick, Brad Keslowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.
This is the first championship in NASCAR's premier series for the 30-year old Busch. Busch led a total of only 41 out of the 267 lap race.
Coming into the race, the Chase field featured Busch, defending champion Kevin Harvick, Cinderella story Martin Truex Jr., and future hall of famer Jeff Gordon in the final race of his illustrious career.
Denny Hamlin started the race on the pole, but Busch and Harvick quickly established themselves as the top two contenders for the Sprint Cup.
Harvick took an early lead over the field, leading over 40 laps by the halfway point.
However, unlike the others races of the season, laps lead is merely a statistic in the finale of the 10-month long NASCAR season.
According to the new rules in the second year of the playoff structure for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, the top finisher among the final four Chase drivers would win the championship.
In 2014, Kevin Harvick cruised to a championship after dominating the entirety of the final race at Homestead.
By the midway point of the race, Kyle Busch had positioned himself above Kevin Harvick, and proceeded to pull away during a long green-flag run that lasted almost to the end of the race.
With 10 laps remaining, NASCAR called a caution due to debris on the track with non-Chaser Brad Keslowski leading the field and Kyle Busch leading the Chase drivers.
All of the leaders went to pit road during the caution. The final set up had Brad Keslowski restarting in first position, with Kyle Busch in second and Kevin Harvick directly behind Busch in fourth.
When the green flag waved, Busch exploded off the line, passing Keslowski and pulling away from the rest of the field.
Harvick pulled into second place and made a desperate attempt to catch Busch. However, Busch easily cruised to victory lane, ending a historic season for Busch and NASCAR.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Busch said on the NBC telecast on Victory Lane. "It's the dream of a lifetime."
Earlier this summer, there was serious doubt on whether Kyle Busch would even qualify for the Chase.
On NASCAR's opening weekend at Daytona, Busch broke both his leg and ankle in a devastating wreck during the Xfinity Series race. He spent the next several weeks in surgery and physical therapy, missing the first eleven events of the NASCAR season.
When Busch returned to the track in May for the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, NASCAR ruled Busch could qualify for the Chase if he both won a race and finished the season in the top 30 in the points standings.
Busch won his first race of the season at Sonoma, then won three consecutive races at Kentucky, Michigan, and the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. By August, Busch eclipsed the top 30, qualifying for the Chase.
Busch did not win a race through the first three rounds of the Chase, but still managed to advance to the final four in points. He finished the final round strong with three top five finishes.
It has been a stellar year for Joe Gibbs Racing, the owner of Busch's car. Joe Gibbs won a total of thirteen events, easily more than any other team. This is the fourth NASCAR title for team owner and former football head coach Joe Gibbs.
As the 2015 NASCAR season comes to close, so does an important era of NASCAR history. Legendary driver Jeff Gordon, 43, announced in January that the 2015 season would be his last.
California-born Gordon is credited with expanding NASCAR's popularity to a much wider audience. With his success on the track and celebrity off the track, Gordon is one of the drivers that invented and epitomized the modern NASCAR driver.
Before the race, NASCAR paid tribute to Gordon when fans in the grandstands revealed a banner reading "24 ever," referring the the number Gordon drove the entirety of his career..
"It is absolutely incredible to be in these shoes," said Gordon on the NBC telecast.
Gordon finished a disappointing sixth place in Sunday's race at Homestead. Gordon finished his career with an impressive 93 wins and four championships. His last victory was three weeks ago at Martinsville.
Martin Truex Jr., who found himself the surprise contender for the Sprint Cup, finished twelfth.
After winning the race and the championship, Kyle Busch summed his season and championship by saying to his team on the radio, "I don't know if I understand life yet, but there's something to be said about this year."
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