Truex Jr. Wins Homestead and the NASCAR Cup Championship
Sunday's race was action packed as Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski entered the day as the Championship Four. But, only one would leave the Homestead-Miami Speedway as the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Champion. Crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., along with Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick, had announced their retirement from full-time participation in the NASCAR Cup series prior to the start of the Ford EcoBoost 400. Truex Jr. entered the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as both a favorite and a long shot.
The No. 78 team had racked up seven victories during the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season and accounted for 19 Stage wins during the chase. However, the other three championship drivers (Busch, Keselowski and Harvick) had previously won the NASCAR Cup title. Early in the day, Kyle Larson dominated the first two stages of Sunday's race as all four of the championship drivers ran inside the top five. The first big move of the day came during the final stage. Kyle Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota appeared to be the fastest car on track during the latter part of runs.
Since the No. 18 struggled for a half dozen laps following each restart, the Gibbs team had opted for a one pit-stop strategy during the final stage. It was a risky move but Larson had proved early on that fresh rubber was "Gold". Having pitted for tires after an early crash, Larson restarted in 12th and regained the race lead in one lap. Kyle Busch's plans for a single stop during the final stage ended when his brother Kurt hit the wall and brought out the final caution.
With everyone pitting for tires, the small-Colorado based team got the No. 78 out of the pits first. Kyle Busch dropped back on the restart and would eventually make his back to second. But, the 2015 Cup Champion couldn't make a late-race pass and settled for runner-up. It was Truex's eighth win of the season and his 26th Top 10 finish in 2017. The 37-year old led 2,253 laps during the season and gave Toyota their second NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championship. Earnhardt Jr. finished a distant 25th, Danica's career ended on lap 142 with a hard crash into the wall. The 2003 Cup Champion Matt Kenseth finished 15-seconds back in eighth overall.
Congratulations to Martin Truex Jr. and the Furniture Row Racing team for a much-deserved Championship. E3 Spark Plugs racing fans will look forward to seeing Danica Patrick's return to open-wheel racing at the 2018 Indianapolis 500. As for Junior, well his JR Motorsports Racing team claimed the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship on Saturday with 19-year old William Bryon behind the wheel. So, you can expect to see Little "E" atop the team's pit box for years to come.
Photo courtesy of dreamstime.com