No. 78 driver Martin Truex Jr. took home the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup after 18 straight laps of playing extremely fast keep-away with the lead from the fast-gaining No. 18 car of Kyle Busch.
Four drivers had a shot at the 2017 Cup tonight: Truex, Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Keselowski cycled through the pits a bit earlier than expected on lap 69, but a couple laps later, Truex and Harvick followed suit. Kyle Busch was the only one who opted to stay out, not pitting until there were only 39 to go.
Had Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch not had a flat left rear tire that brought out the race’s third caution, Kyle Busch probably would have won. But with the extra caution, most of the leaders came into the pits and the field bunched back up, killing much of the advantage Busch was building up on faster, newer tires.
Martin Truex Jr. emerged in the front when the race was restarted, but Busch was still making up ground, taking third place with 22 laps to go, and second place with 18 left.
Kyle Larson appeared as if he might have had enough speed towards the end to pass Busch for second, but didn’t ultimately go for it. Just Saturday night, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Preece came under fire not moving out of the way of the Xfinity championship battle. The last laps of Larson’s race felt like the exact opposite of what Preece did with that fresh on everyone’s minds.
It didn’t look like Truex was going to hold his lead with Busch gaining back, with Truex begging for help from his crew chief Cole Pearn in making sure lapped backmarkers got out of his way. But Truex cleverly maintained his gap in front of Busch until the very end—for 18 excruciating laps.
Truex’s playoffs didn’t begin in the happiest manner, despite him winning the regular-season championship. He crashed out of the last race before the playoffs was was noticeably very angry about it. Turns out, all that scowling through pre-playoff photo ops paid off in the end. He’s pretty happy now.
Truex got a love-bump from NASCAR’s favorite son Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the cool-down lap.
“We were high-fiving him with our race car,” Earnhardt told NBC’s broadcast team.
Earnhardt sadly didn’t do as well as fans had hoped in his final race before retirement. He finished 25th after having to start way back in the field due to a new engine getting installed before the race. He was three laps down from the winner.
“I didn’t cry until I met [team owner] Rick [Hendrick]’s neck,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports of the conclusion of his final race.
Earnhardt ended his NASCAR Cup Series career in the most endearing way possible: by chugging a beer after getting out of his car on pit lane.
We’ll certainly miss Earnhardt on the track, but at least we’ll have him in the commentary booth soon. In the meantime, congratulations Truex on his first-ever win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and more importantly, his first ever NASCAR Cup Series title, and the first Cup championship for Furniture Row Racing.