NASCAR’s championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway gave three hard-working drivers their first Series Championships.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400
Before Furniture Row Racing could take home their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship, driver Martin Truex, Jr. had to take down fellow 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship contenders Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin led the field of 39 to the wave of the green flag, it didn’t take long before the four championship contenders were vying for the top spot. Although the No. 42 of Kyle Larson raced his way to the first two Stage wins, another Kyle challenged the Chip Ganassi Racing driver for the lead as the laps wound down in the final race of the 2017 season.
Although Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch appeared headed for the title, a spin by his brother Kurt Busch in Turn 4 on Lap 227 brought out the fifth and final caution of the race, which bunched up the field for the restart on Lap 234.
This restart gave race winner Martin Truex, Jr. a chance to catch Busch and take the lead. After this, Truex was able to hold off Busch by .681 seconds for both the EcoBoost 400 race win as well as his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
“This is just so overwhelming,” said a tearful Truex in Victory Lane. “To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that we couldn’t even run in the top-20, to now become a champion – I never thought this day would come, and now that it is finally here it is so unbelievable.”
The victory was a timely gift for Furniture Row Racing Owner Barney Visser, who is back home in Denver, Colo., recovering from a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery. It was also a gift to Truex’s long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who has been battling ovarian cancer. The championship victory also was entirely appropriate since Truex earned his eighth race victory of the season and was the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to do so this season.
Although he hoped for a better finish to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came home in the 25th position. Danica Patrick, who will also end her NASCAR racing career after the 2018 Daytona 500, cut a tire and clobbered the Turn 2 wall on Lap 142, which left her with a 37th place finish.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 200
Truex wasn’t the only NASCAR driver to earn his first Championship this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Following an impressive performance and second-place finish in Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 200, Kyle Busch Racing’s own Christopher Bell earned his first Series Championship, while also giving his team its second title in three years.
In a Ford EcoBoost 200 that ran caution-free except for the planned breaks after the first and second stages, pole sitter and race winner Chase Briscoe finished ahead of Camping World Truck Series Championship Winner Christopher Bell by 2.887-seconds.
While Bell’s fellow open-wheel racing friend picked up his first win of the season as well as the last trophy for Brad Keselowski Racing, which is closing its doors at the end of the season, it was Bell who had a real reason to celebrate on Friday night.
After scoring a series-high victories this season and finishing ahead of fellow championship contenders Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Austin Cindric in the final race, Bell was officially crowned the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.
“To win the championship for a team like Kyle Busch Motorsports, who deserves the championship – words just can’t describe my feelings,” said Bell. “This whole organization, this whole team has been good for so many years, which of course made me want to be the guy that lets them down, and I’m glad I didn’t this weekend at Homestead.”
By virtue of his third-place finish, 2016 Camping World Truck Series Champion Johnny Sauter was runner-up for the 2017 Championship. New Series Champion 22-year-old Christopher Bell started 2017 with a victory in the Chili Bowl Nationals, a title the Oklahoma native has coveted since childhood, and ends the year as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, a perfect bookend to a banner year for the young motorsports prodigy.
NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 300
Much like the new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, the new XFINITY Series Champion also didn’t win Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 300, but a top-three finish gave him his first series championship.
As Cole Custer celebrated his first victory in the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Saturday, 19-year-old William Byron reveled in the 2017 XFINITY Series Championship. Although Custer led 182 Laps for a perfect driver rating of 150.0, it was JR Motorsports driver William Byron who held off his 42-year-old teammate as well as the other top 2017 championship contenders to bring home the championship for JR Motorsports.
Although Sadler had passed Byron on Lap 165 of 200, the 42-year-old veteran stayed out front until Lap 191, when he closed on the No. 18 Toyota of Ryan Preece and lost momentum. Byron charged past Sadler into third place – and into the lead among the four drivers battling for the title.
With four laps left, Sadler pulled up to Byron’s bumper. Byron shot past Preece’s Toyota, clearing him to the inside. Sadler tried to follow but couldn’t complete the pass, and slid up into Preece’s Camry, with the right front of Sadler’s No. 1 Chevrolet clipping the left rear of the Toyota.
Sadler hit the wall and left his title hopes in the dust. The disconsolate driver finished second in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings for the fourth time, and his disappointment stood in marked contrast to the elation of his young teammate.
“I don’t know that I took a breath the last 20 laps of this race,” said Byron. “It was incredible, and I just have to thank this team, as well as my teammate who raced me clean. We just raced harder than ever before and I am so proud of what became of this!”
Team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his share of nervous moments as his drivers fought for the championship.
“Man, it was tough watching those guys battle like they did,” said Earnhardt. “William did a great job! To be as young as he is, he drove like a veteran. I know Elliott is really disappointed and it is hard to watch any of your guys lose one, but at least we will be taking the trophy back to Mooresville.”
While Byron brought home the Series Championship title, the driver who brought home a runner-up finish in Saturday’s race, Sam Hornish Jr., also brought home an owners’ championship to Roger Penske.
As the NASCAR season comes to a close, be sure to stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for the latest in offseason news as the 2018 season begins to roll around.