Race Capsule: Busch claims first win and championship at Homestead, Gordon calls it a career
Flag to Flag: The Championship Four all started in the top 15 for the Ford 400 Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and while four drew plenty of attention, much of the day's focus lay on Jeff Gordon's final race. Fittingly, Gordon was part of the title Chase, thanks to his win at Martinsville three weeks ago. Gordon would not win a pole in his final race - that honor would go to Denny Hamlin (10th). Gordon started 5th, near the other title contenders: Kyle Busch 3rd, Martin Truex Jr. 11th, and Kevin Harvick 13th.
The green flag flew almost two hours late, because of rain and Joey Logano (4th) jumped to an early lead. Hamlin sprung a leak in his rear gear and put fluid on the track for the first yellow on lap 15. All the title contenders and most of the lead lap cars pitted, leaving Logano and Ryan Blaney (17th) on the track. They fell back on old tires and Ky. Busch (winner) popped into the lead. Busch would lead six times for 41 laps, but did not look like he would win the race on the last long green flag run.
Brad Keselowski (3rd) led a race-high 86 laps and blasted into the lead on the second-to-last restart, holding that position until the last caution. Kyle Larson (5th) stalked past Ky. Busch and almost caught Keselowski until the final yellow, just as he did when he
Ky. Busch and Keselowski battled hard on the lap 261 restart, but Busch's position in the high line gave him the advantage and the win over the final seven laps.
Harvick had a top 5 car the entire race and led 46 laps, but just never seemed in a position to win, except maybe on restarts. Harvick did drive his guts out trying to catch Busch in the closing laps, but could not replicate his success from a year ago. Harvick did set the modern day NASCAR record with his 13th runner-up finish of the year.
Gordon struggled mightily much of the race. He did manage early on to lead nine
Truex Jr. was better early in the
The top 10 were Ky. Busch, Harvick, Keselowski, Logano, Larson, Gordon, Matt Kenseth (had a quiet comeback from his two-race suspension and a solid race), Kurt Busch (had trouble early in the race that sent him to 41st, drove through the field and was in top 10 most of race), Jimmie Johnson (penalized by NASCAR for crew intentionally manipulating the car's
The race was very exciting on the restarts and tepid in some of the long runs. Much like last year, the title contenders ran near the front and one took the race. Kyle Busch's 34th career win was his most important one and his first in the Chase. At 30 years old and exactly nine months after his surgery for the leg and ankle he broke at Daytona, Busch is now a Sprint Cup champion. What an accomplishment.
RaceTweet: Kyle Busch takes the lead on the last restart to win the Homestead race and his first Sprint Cup. Keselowski loses another race.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kyle Busch - He did not have the race's most dominant car, but really no one did. But he capitalized on Keselowski's poor restart line choice and took the win. He put his car in a position to win at a track where he entered with an average finish of 23rd and won the race and the Cup. Good job.
North Korean Missile Dud: Clint Bowyer - Bowyer lost control of his car and wrecked himself and several others on lap 47. Bowyer's car didn't appear to have as much damage as those of Aric Almirola or Dale Earnhardt Jr., but the No. 15 team called it a day for the final time. Bowyer moves on to HScott Motorsports in 2016 and Michael Waltrip Racing is done fielding teams. Bowyer ended what started as a promising tenure with MWR in 2012 (three wins and nearly a championship) with a
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Denny Hamlin - Hamlin's comeback would have garnered more coverage, had he been in the title hunt. But the pole sitter's hopes were gone when his rear end gear started leaking fluid early in the race and he had to go behind the wall for repairs. Three quick cautions allowed the No. 11 team to take a wave-around and get two free passes, putting him back on the lead lap. Hamlin also got damage in the Bowyer wreck, prompting the team to make long pit stops to repair the nose of the car. Hamlin almost lost a lap in the pits, but got out just ahead of the pace car. Then Hamlin wasted no time carving through the field. He ran as high as
Ghost Driver: Paul Menard - He finished 21st, but I honestly don't recall ever seeing the No. 27 Chevy on camera.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Brett Moffitt - Really, no underdog race teams had a fighting chance for a lead lap finish. But props go to Brett Moffitt for claiming the NASCAR Rookie of the Year title. Moffitt had only one race on his schedule for all of 2015, but Brian Vickers' health problems surfaced again and then the opportunity in the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports arose. Moffitt's stats are not impressive, except for his top 10 run at Atlanta Motor Speedway in place of Vickers. But Moffitt barely edged out BK Racing's Matt DiBenedetto to win the title. Now he needs to find a ride for 2016.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Jimmie Johnson - Why not? Johnson got a pass thru penalty on a mid-race restart, his second-straight race with some kind of penalty. Johnson managed to barely hang on the lead lap most of the rest of the race and then got a caution just when he needed it to stay on the lead lap. Johnson then drove to a respectable 9th-place.
Wheel of Misfortune: Brad Keselowski - This is the second time in three races that Keselowski led the most races and lost the lead on the final restart. This time, Keselowski shot himself in the lead foot by choosing the bottom line. But nevertheless, a debris caution did him in. He finishes the year with one win, just as he did in 2013. Surely the No. 2 will be at the drawing board this offseason to improve on that stat.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: This being the last race of the year, it means the end of several of driver-team relationships. Of course, we say goodbye to Jeff Gordon the driver, truly one of the most recognizable faces the sport has seen.
And we bid adieu to Michael Waltrip Racing, whose loss is a real blow to the sport. The team has been a full-time Cup organization since 2007 and weathered several storms. But it had trouble cracking the mold as a top team and that weight finally broke it. Georgia driver David Ragan, who piloted the No. 55 in place of Vickers most of the
One place Ragan could land is the No. 9 of Richard Petty Motorsports. Sam Hornish Jr. raced his last time in the No. 9 and placed a non-descript 25th.
Justin Allgaier clears out of the No. 51 HScott Motorsports Chevy in favor of Clint Bowyer. Allgaier hit the wall and finished four laps down in 36th in his maiden ride with the team he has run full-time for the last two years.
Both the Front Row Motorsports and BK Racing three-car operations could have different driver lineups for next year. BK Racing seems to be a toss up and some of its investors are moving out completely (Anthony Marlowe) or selling out some shares. FRM has said the team will be different next year -
Change in NASCAR is inevitable and the last race of the season always highlights the changing tide. Best of luck to the drivers, team members, and sponsors that find themselves in different places or looking for work next year.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan drove the last laps for Michael Waltrip Racing with difficulty. He sustained damage in the Bowyer crash and struggled to place 27th, two laps down. He started 38th and raced as high as 20th. Ragan finished a disappointing 27th in points, tied for his worst standing racing for fully-funded teams (he was 27th in 2009 with Roush Fenway Racing). Ragan had only one top 10 and six DNFs.
Reed Sorenson did not qualify for the Cup race and his 2016 plans are also unknown.
Saturday's NXS race was one of desperation for Chase Elliott, as he not only needed to gain 18 points on eventual champ Chris Buescher, but also fought to keep Ty Dillon and Regan Smith behind him. Elliott ran between 7th and 10th most of the day, as he had all season - and joined all but four cars that
Garrett Smithley and struggled in Derrike Cope's No. 70. But
Friday's Camping World Truck Series saw John Wes Townley finish 10th and end fall just three points shy of Daniel Hemric for 7th in points. The other Georgia drivers struggled: Korbin Forrister was 27th, Smithley 28th, and Brandon Jones 31st after hitting the wall early. Forrister ran all but one race and was 18th in points, with an average finish of 23rd. His 2016 plans are unknown, as are Smithley's. Townley will run the full year in Trucks and a limited NXS schedule. Jones will be full-time in the NXS for Richard Childress Racing.
NXS RaceTweet: Kyle Larson comes back to win
NCWTS RaceTweet: Erik Jones is the champ and the rookie of the year and Crafton wins Homestead from the pole.