Kyle Busch had heard the question asked dozens of times throughout the 2019 Playoffs – when is he going to break back into Victory Lane?
On Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch had the answer, at the perfect time.
Busch scored his first victory of the 10-race NASCAR post-season after beating out Martin Truex, Jr. in the Ford EcoBoost 400 to secure his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title – besting Kevin Harvick and Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Truex and Denny Hamlin.
Despite four victories in the 2019 regular season, Busch advanced through all three rounds of the NASCAR Playoffs without a single victory – thanks in part to 30 playoff points Busch accumulated during the regular season that kept him in the top four after every round.
But playoff points wouldn’t help him on Sunday – it was win or nothing.
“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,” said Busch. “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.”
After taking the checkered flag, Busch got to take a special victory lap – with his son Brexton riding shotgun.
“Brexton actually came to me, I don’t know if he got the idea from somebody else or if he just remembered it from Keelan (Harvick) doing it with Kevin, and said, Dad, can I go for the ride with you? And I was like, Oh, hell, I’m good with it. So we asked the NASCAR guys, and they radioed up to the tower, and we got approval to be able to do that,” said Busch. “So that was really, really special for Brexton, for me and Brexton to be able to take in that moment and go for a ride around the track.
“I was smiling the whole damn time and looking over at him and making sure that he was having fun, enjoying in that moment. We were waving at the camera that was in there and stuff. It was a lot of fun. I’m thankful for that.”
Truex finished runner-up in the race and the title battle for the second year in a row, but early in the race – Truex looked like the driver to beat.
Truex led 98 of the first 121 laps and won the opening 80-lap stage before a disastrous pit stop in which the crew put the front tires on the wrong side put Truex a lap down.
Truex caught a break when John Hunter Nemechek spun on lap 138 to put Truex back on the lead lap, and he spent the next 30 laps playing catch up before finally finishing the second stage in fourth.
From there, Truex could never seem to muster up the same strong run he enjoyed in the opening stage, leading just five laps in the final stage and falling short of grabbing his second Cup Series title.
“You’ve got to be perfect, you know, and one mistake probably cost us a shot at it,” Truex said of the tire issue. “Ultimately it came down to track position, and I felt like if I could have been up front and controlled the race, I could have drove away from them.
“Second two years in a row definitely stings a little, but the fact that we have one is still really a big deal. It’s hard to win these things.”
Harvick was searching for his own second Cup Series championship and faced the daunting task if being a lone wolf up against three JGR Toyotas.
Although he managed to lead 41 laps and finished fourth in the race, Harvick struggled to find speed and found himself fading fast in a car that could seem to keep up on the long runs.
“We just needed to do something different. Those guys, they were so much better than us on the long run,” said Harvick. “Really our best chance was to have a caution there at the end and never got one. We just did something different hoping for a caution, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in those late situations like that. Just do the opposite of the cars you’re trying to race, and it just didn’t work out.
“On the restarts I could do what I wanted to do, and I could hold them off for 15 or 20 laps right there, and you know, this race has come down to that every year, so you kind of play towards that, and they were quite a bit better than us on the long run, but we had a really good car for those first 15 or 20 laps on the restarts and had a lot of speed. Just never got to try to race for it there with a caution.”
Hamlin may have been the sentimental favorite among the Championship 4 as the one driver in the field without a championship.
Hamlin seemed to have momentum on his side after racing his way into the title hunt with a victory last Sunday at Phoenix, but he too fell victim to a pit road miscue after his team applied too much tape on a late-race green-flat stop, forcing Hamlin to come to pit road.
The unscheduled stop put Hamlin deep in the field – too deep to climb his way back to the front. He ended the day in 10th place, last among the Championship 4.
“I feel like I did all I could, so probably not. I mean, I don’t think I could have done a better job. I don’t think I could have — I didn’t leave anything out there. So for the first half of the race we just weren’t fast enough, we weren’t handling very good, and all of a sudden it went nighttime and we took off, and suddenly I perked up and got a little more and was thinking that we’ve got a chance.
“Then just didn’t work out. Definitely, like I said, last week, I was going to come in here and do the best I could and live with the result either way. I definitely feel like I couldn’t have done anything different. Certainly we got a little aggressive there, and it cost us, but I mean, he’s also been really aggressive and won us races, too. It’s just he’s going for it. He saw an opportunity there to really add some speed to the car, and it just didn’t work out.”