Martin Truex Jr. won his first NASCAR Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Terry Renna AP
Martin Truex Jr. won his first NASCAR Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Terry Renna AP

NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. wins first NASCAR championship in thrilling season finale

November 19, 2017 07:09 PM

HOMESTEAD, FLA.

He was not the best car on Sunday, nor the fastest, but none of that mattered – at last, Martin Truex Jr. is a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Truex’s struggles have been long-documented, everything from losing his ride in the prime of his career to his girlfriend’s cancer diagnosis three years ago, and yet still, he fought back in 2017. All season long Truex has been dominant, as his seven wins coming into Sunday will attest, but this eighth win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale will be the one that defines his season.

The race started OK for Truex, but he lingered just outside of the top spot until the third and final stage. At that point, he jumped to the lead and, thanks to an advantageous caution, was able to keep it. The last little bit of the race was spent trying to fend off Kyle Busch, who had a faster car for large swathes of the race but eventually ran out of time.

And then there was Truex, as has been the case so many times this season, crossing the finish line before any other driver. The crowd erupted, as did Truex’s entire No. 78 team, and of course, Truex himself.

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After everything, he deserved a championship – now he finally has one.

Race breakdown

Stage 1: Kyle Larson pitted about five laps into the race for fresh tires, and then immediately climbed up 11 spots to take the lead. He then built on that advantage to win Stage 1, while the championship contenders finished in the next four spots: Keselowski second, Busch third, Harvick fourth, and Truex fifth.

Stage 2: Larson won the second stage too, albeit by a smaller margin after a restart with about 10 laps to go. Truex hadn’t been great in Stage 2, but he took full advantage of that restart to climb up to second place and the lead amongst the championship four. Following him were Kevin Harvick (third), Kyle Busch (fourth), and Brad Keselowski (fifth).

Stage 3: Busch made a gutsy pit decision that ended up backfiring on him when his brother Kurt Busch crashed out and caused a caution. That meant Truex, who was leading at the time, could pit with everyone else and maintain his lead, eventually holding it to the race’s finish.

Three who mattered

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been the fastest car all season, and it finally paid off for him at Homestead. He won his first career NASCAR Cup Series title after coming up short the past two seasons.

Kyle Busch: Busch was arguably faster than Truex on Sunday, but when a late caution allowed all drivers to pit, Busch was left with two much ground to make up and finished second.

Kurt Busch: His spin on the inside corner with less than 50 laps to go in the race was about the worst thing that could have happened to his brother Kyle, who needed a long run without cautions to make up lost ground.

Observations

▪  It only took five laps for the first caution of the race to come out, as Joey Gase slammed hard into the wall and sustained heavy damage to his right side. Several drivers, including Keselowski, strategically pitted for a new set of tires that early.

▪  On lap 139, Danica Patrick crashed out in her last race as a full-time Cup Series driver, her car engulfed in smoke and flames.

▪  This may have been the championship race, but it was also just as much about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement as it was about handing out a trophy. Earnhardt easily got the loudest cheers of any driver during pre-race introductions, and the huge crowd to take a photo of his last car was further proof that Earnhardt will dearly be missed.

They said it

“We didn’t have the best car, but I told my guys we were going to dig deep. We just made it happen.” – Martin Truex Jr.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

Next race

2018 Daytona 500

Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.

When: 2:30 p.m. on Feburary 18, 2018.

TV: FOX.

Radio: MRN.