After 35 long weeks, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship came down to two Toyota teams who’ve run well all season long. On Sunday, Martin Truex, Jr. scored his eighth victory of 2017, and with it, the 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series championship. While Truex celebrated his accomplishments, NASCAR said goodbye to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who will no longer drive full-time in NASCAR.
As cars fired up and rolled off of the starting grid, every man and woman on every pit crew stood at the edge of their pit box and high-fived Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who made his final full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. After getting off pit road, Dale Jr. was saluted by the fans as he followed a large “Thank You, Dale Jr.” flag being hauled by a truck.
After the salute to Dale Jr., the race started with polesitter Denny Hamlin starting at the front of the field. Before Hamlin could exit turn two, Martin Truex, Jr. had already stolen the lead. Kyle Busch, who was fighting Truex for the championship, also passed Hamlin, while Earnhardt, who started last, worked his way into 29th. On lap six, the first caution of the day occurred after Joey Gase hit the outside wall. Under the caution, drivers like Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Brad Keselowski came down pit road and got off sequence with the leaders.
On the restart, the newer tires ate up the competition, and Kyle Larson, after restarting outside of the top five, quickly worked his way into the lead, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch.
The stage was calm after the first 20 laps, and the only noticeable problems in the stage were for Jimmie Johnson, who suffered from a flat tire two times in the stage. Kyle Larson dominated the stage and won it easily. Behind him, Brad Keselowski led the championship battle, but Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick were not far behind at all.
Kyle Larson continued to dominate after the start of stage two. Brad Keselowski, who was the championship leader at the time, was passed by Kevin Harvick early in the stage for the lead in the championship standings.
The championship battle continued to change, as Kyle Busch passed Harvick, taking the championship lead. Busch led that battle until the second cycle of green-flag pit stops, where Kevin Harvick cycled out to second in the race and first in the championship standings. It didn’t last long, however, because Kyle Busch ran Harvick back down and passed him again.
On lap 142, Danica Patrick hit the wall, and Kasey Kahne was collected, which prompted another caution.
When the race restarted, Kyle Larson once again, flew away from the rest of the leaders, and Martin Truex, Jr. passed Kyle Busch for the championship lead. Larson took the win in stage two, with Truex trailing. It set the stage for one last run to the finish, which would prove to be incredibly intense.
Martin Truex, Jr. took the lead with the help of his pit crew and restarted the race in the lead, but was overtaken by Kyle Busch. David Starr, however, hit the wall and brought out the caution soon after. When the race restarted, Kyle Busch hung onto the race and championship lead, but Truex fell back after Larson passed him. Brad Keselowski short-pitted, which dragged two of the other Championship 4 with him. The only one of the championship-eligible drivers who didn’t pit was leader Kyle Busch. When Kyle Busch did finally pit, Martin Truex, Jr. took the championship lead.
The caution came out, and it left the Championship 4 bunched together. On the restart, Truex was chased by Kyle Busch, and they were followed by Kyle Larson in third. Kyle Busch charged to Truex, but he was unable to complete the pass. Truex led to the finish, winning the race and the championship.
Behind the leaders, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was running in 15th, when he had a tire go down. He finished three laps down in 25th, but was grateful that he had finished the race in one piece.
While Truex didn’t dominate the race, he did dominate the season. He ends the season with eight wins, 19 top fives, 26 top-10s, three poles, and 2,253 laps led. It was a truly dominant season for Truex, and a championship well-deserved.
For a more in-depth look at the Ford EcoBoost 400, tune in to NASCAR Nation on 107.7 The Bronc FM WRRC Thursday, November 30th at 7 p.m. eastern time, hosted by the writer of this article, Joseph Passero.