In the past few years of the Championship 4 event, the drivers competing for the championship have needed to win the race. The Ford Ecoboost 400 certainly came down to that once again Sunday night in Southern Florida at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kyle Busch brought home his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship and the fifth title for Joe Gibbs Racing after taking the lead from Kevin Harvick with 45 to go. Busch held on to the lead and without a late-race caution, wound up winning his fifth race of the 2019 season.
“We have a great race team, a great owner and the best sponsors in sports,” Busch said. “I just can’t say enough and thank everyone enough for this opportunity. I may be the one that’s able to hoist the trophy or to have a championship, but it wouldn’t be possible without Adam Stevens (crew chief) and Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs and the whole family. M&M’s of course and Interstate Batteries and Norm Miller. And, Toyota – this TRD engine was awesome tonight. It’s been awesome all year. We had one issue, but man it’s so much fun to work with these guys and this group. Everybody that puts it all together for me. There’s always your doubters. There’s always your haters, but you know what, this one is for Rowdy nation because you guys are the best. Thank you so much.“
With practices being canceled due to weather on Friday, NASCAR elected to cancel qualifying and replace it with a practice session on Saturday afternoon. With that in mind, the starting grid was set by Owner Points, which saw Championship 4 driver Denny Hamlin inherit the pole. Kevin Harvick was second, Martin Truex Jr. started third and Kyle Busch fourth. Stages of 80/80/107 laps made up the 267-lap race at Homestead-Miami.
Stage 1: Lap 1- Lap 80
The Ford Ecoboost 400 got off to a clean start with no issues. In fact, the whole stage went without a caution, however, there were some hairy moments. Championship 4 driver Kyle Busch reported that he potentially ran over something on Lap 28, but he carried on the rest of the stage without a problem. The first round of green-flag pit stops took place on Lap 36 with Busch and Harvick being the first to pit of the Championship 4. Hamlin and Truex followed one lap later. After the stops, Truex cycled back out to the lead on Lap 40.
By cycling out to the lead, Truex led for the final 40 laps in the first stage and took the stage win. Kyle Busch was third, Harvick fourth and Hamlin fifth among the championship contenders, though none of them were able to receive points. Truex’s car was so fast that he lapped cars all the way to 14th place before the completion of Stage 1.
Stage 2: Lap 80- Lap 160
When Stage 2 got underway, there was an intense battle between the top runners. Kyle Larson, Harvick and Busch were all challenging for the lead at once. However, it was Truex who once again got the best of them and led for 33 laps before the next round of pit stops, and this is where a mistake occurred for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
During the second round of green-flag pit stops, the team accidentally got the tires mixed around by putting the left tire on the right front and the right tire on the left front. This made Truex come back down pit road to fix the issue and lose a lap. In this case, Busch cycled out as the leader and it was his time to shine until a caution came in Truex’s favor on Lap 138. The No. 19 driver was in the free pass position and got his lap back courtesy of the yellow from a spin by John Hunter Nemechek.
After the restart on Lap 142, the lead changed hands multiple times between Harvick and Busch, before Busch got the upper hand and earned his 12th stage win of the year. Harvick came in second, Truex fourth and Hamlin finished once again in the fifth position.
Stage 3: Lap 166- Lap 267
The final stage had a 101 lap run to the finish and featured some exciting moments. For instance, Denny Hamlin’s car came to life and was starting to make some noise for the first time of the night. In fact, the Championship 4 drivers were 1-2-3-4 with 91 to go. As the race wore long, so did the equipment and the tires, which meant the final round of green-flag pit stops.
Hamlin was the first to pit with 58 to go hoping to get out in front of the rest of the Championship 4 drivers. However, troubles arose for the Virginia native, as too much tape was put on which caused the car to overheat with an extraordinary amount of water coming out of the car. This made Hamlin come to the pits again and ultimately ended up costing him a chance at the championship.
A few other drivers had problems as well late in the race. Larson, after being so strong early, had his hood up on pit road. Eventually, the No. 42 pushed the car back behind the wall and ended his season with a disappointing 40th place finish. William Byron also had no oil pressure with 49 to go and his night was done early as well.
With that all in mind, Harvick stayed out to assume the lead and hoped for a caution to help his case. He pitted with 44 to go as he could not stay out much longer without the rest of the field eating him up on fresher tires. He came back out 17th, one lap down.
This meant Kyle Busch was the lucky one to assume the lead after pit stops. He took the lead with just 45 laps remaining and held on to win the second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship of his career and the fifth title for Joe Gibbs Racing. Joe Gibbs Racing also became the winningest team by having 19 wins in a season, surpassing Hendrick Motorsports with 18.
Busch led five times for 120 laps en route to his fifth win of the season. The Las Vegas native talked about his dominant run to cap off a perfect season.
“Everybody always says you never give up and we’re no different and we just do what we can do each and every week and sometimes we may not be the best and sometimes we may not have the right track position. Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around. That’s what’s so special about Homestead-Miami Speedway is the ability to put on a show. Kind of like we did there racing those guys. It was exciting from my seat. It was a lot of fun to cap off such an amazing year.”
There were three cautions for 15 laps and 14 lead changes among five different drivers.
- Kyle Busch, led 120 laps, won Stage 2, 2019 Cup Series Champion
- Martin Truex Jr., led 103 laps, won Stage 1
- Erik Jones
- Kevin Harvick, led 41 laps
- Joey Logano
- Clint Bowyer
- Ryan Newman
- Austin Dillon
- Alex Bowman
- Denny Hamlin, led two laps
- Ryan Blaney, one lap down
- Daniel Hemric, 2019 Cup Series Rookie of The Year, one lap down
- Jimmie Johnson, one lap down
- Daniel Suarez, one lap down
- Chase Elliott, one lap down
- Chris Buescher, one lap down
- Paul Menard, one lap down
- Brad Keselowski, two laps down
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr, two laps down
- Matt DiBenedetto, two laps down
- Kurt Busch, two laps down
- Aric Almirola, three laps down
- John Hunter Nemechek, three laps down
- Ty Dillon, three laps down
- Ryan Preece, four laps down
- Michael McDowell, four laps down
- David Ragan, four laps down
- Landon Cassill, five laps down
- Drew Herring, five laps down
- J.J. Yeley, five laps down
- Corey LaJoie, six laps down
- B.J. McLeod, 11 laps down
- Timmy Hill, 19 laps down
- Bubba Wallace, 24 laps down
- Ross Chastain, 25 laps down
- Josh Bilicki, OUT, Brakes
- Reed Sorenson, OUT, Brakes
- Joe Nemechek, OUT, Steering
- William Byron, OUT, Engine
- Kyle Larson, OUT, Engine
Up Next: It is now the off-season for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The next on-track action for the Cup Series drivers will be in 2020 with The Clash and Daytona 500 Qualifying on Sunday, Feb. 9. However, the playoff drivers will take a trip to Nashville, Tennessee for the Banquet Awards Ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 5, live on NBCSN.