In a season filled of mastering the field and overcoming tragedy, Martin Truex, Jr. captured his 8th win of 2017 at Homestead for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in his 14th season.
After a season of dominance and emotional setbacks, Martin Truex, Jr. and Furniture Row Racing entered Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida as the favorites and came out as the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.
Truex held off a hard charging Kyle Busch in the closing laps for his 8th win of the season. The master of the 1.5-mile ovals beat Busch by 0.681 seconds, leading 78 of 267 laps including the last 51.
An emotional Truex was congratulated with a door-to-door rub by his mentor and departing driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who won two Xfinity Series titles for Dale Jr.’s team in 2004 and 2005.
After a celebratory burn out, Truex got out of his No. 78 Bass Pro Shop Toyota in tears, knowing he won his first title in a season of tragedy and owning the competition.
This Colorado-based operation endured the reemergence of Martin’s girlfriend’s battle with ovarian cancer, the sudden death’s of crew chief Cole Pearn’s best friend Jacob Damen and team fabricator Jim Watson and recently, car owner Barney Visser’s heart attack.
Truex dedicated his title to his girlfriend Sherry Pollex and the rest of his team who fought hard all season.
“A lot of it was for (Sherry). A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team,” Truex Jr. said. “I don’t even know what to say. We just never gave up all day long. We didn’t have the best car. I don’t know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep.”
Late in the race, Truex caught a huge brake after a caution came out for Kyle’s brother, Kurt who lost control in turn 4. Truex needed to pit and during the last pit stop, his team got him out in first and held on to that spot.
Truex said he didn’t have the fastest car compared to Kyle and third-place finisher Kyle Larson, but kept motivating his team to dig deeper as the race unfolded.
“We didn’t have the best car. I don’t even know who I won that thing, Truex said. “I told my guys that we’re going to dig deeper than we ever had.”
Truex added he drove near the outside wall, helping him find the preferred lane to hold his lead from Kyle who failed to pass him on the bottom groove.
“With 20 to go, I thought I was done. They were all better than me in the long run all day long. But I just found a way, Truex said. “I found a lane that I could choose and found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn’t used it and I just made it happen.”
His title comes four years after being stripped out of a playoff berth because of the “Singapore Swing” incident involving Michael Waltrip Racing fixing the race at Richmond to help Truex and former teammate Clint Bowyer advance in the post-season.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Truex said. “To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that couldn’t run 20th, to be here, I never thought this day would come and to be here is so unbelievable.”
Pearn said he was in disbelief after telling Truex over the radio with less than 30 laps to go, nobody could stop him during long runs.
“It was pretty calm all those last few laps. We got down to 2-3 laps to go, I just started to think about everything that happened this year. It’s just unbelievable,” Pearn said. “I’ve been in racing now for 29 years, since I was 6 years old. To win a championship at this level. To come from Canada and everyone that’s been a huge supporter of mine. And the year we’ve had, off and on the track, to get this team from Colorado (a championship) is so unorthodox. Never could’ve drawn it any different. I can’t believe we’re champions.”
Truex ends the season with 19 top-5s, 26 top-10 finishes and led 2,253 laps.
In their 13th season, Furniture Row Racing became the first team outside of North Carolina since Melling Racing in 1988 to win the Cup title.
Championship 4 contender Kevin Harvick came home in fourth and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 5.
Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski took sixth and seventh. Matt Kenseth wraps up his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing in 8th, followed by pole sitter Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman taking the last two top-10 spots.
The race was slowed down 5 times for 26 laps including Danica Patrick cutting down a tire and hit the turn three wall on lap 142, ending her final full season in 37th.
Patrick said her 11th DNF of 2017 was an example of how her final season was, a disappointment.
“I hit the wall in (Turns) 3 and 4 and got some fender rub on the tire and it blew the tire. I went a couple of laps and there was smoke in the car, but they thought it was all right, but it wasn’t (due to fire), Patrick said. “What I’m not looking forward to is I have to go sit in my bus and wait for everyone to get done with the race before I can go home. That sucks, but I think that what’s coming ahead is bright for me and for the way it feels, so I’m excited.”
Patrick is set to make her final NASCAR start at the 60th Daytona 500 Feb. 18, 2018 before wrapping up her racing career at Indianapolis next Memorial Day weekend, her first Indy 500 attempt since 2011.
Other notable finshers included Truex’s teammate Erik Jones finishing 21st, clinching Rookie of the Year over Daniel Suarez, who had a brake failure and finished 34th. Dale Jr. lost three laps and ends his career in 25th.
With the championship decided, a dramatic 69th season of NASCAR has concluded. The focus shifts into the off-season where several puzzles have yet to be placed. Three months from now, the 60th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida will have a different look. Gone are the icons that contributed into the sport’s boom in the 90s and early 2000s as the new youth movement has sworn in as the sport’s new leaders next season and beyond.