Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, FL — November 17, 2019
The culmination of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will see a Champion crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway today.
Kyle Busch(18), Denny Hamlin(11), Kevin Harvick(4), and Martin Truex Jr.(19) will battle it out today over 267 laps and 400.5 miles in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Cup practice was rained out Friday, NASCAR opted to cancel qualifying and allow the drivers to practice during that time Saturday afternoon. The field was set based on points with Hamlin and Harvick on the front row, Truex and Busch right behind them. In the five years that this Championship format has been used, the Champion had to win the race to earn the title. Expect nothing less today.
Stages today are 80/80/107, but Stage points don’t matter. The first of the Championship 4 to cross the finish line earns the title NASCAR Champion.
Drivers go four-wide back in the pack as the Championship 4(Champ-4) go side-by-side through Turns 1 & 2. Harvick pulls out to a two-car length lead down the backstretch and leads the first lap. Harvick continues to stretch the advantage early as the Champ-4 go Harvick, Hamlin, Busch, and Truex.
Truex did not remain in 4th for long, by Lap 12 he had passed Busch and Hamlin and began to eat into the 1.5 second lead of Harvick. On Lap 20 Truex caught and easily passed the #4 car for the lead. By Lap 25 Truex had built over a two-second lead on Harvick.
Kyle Larson(42), the fastest car on the track, had passed the remaining Champ-4 contenders and began to chip away on Truex lead margin. Green flag pit stops began on Lap 35. Not for a lack of fuel, but for a lack of grip. Everyone took on four new Goodyear race tires.
After pit stops cycled through the Champ-4 ran Truex 1st, Busch 3rd, Harvick 4th, and Hamlin 5th. Larson remained in second but had fallen over 4-seconds behind the leader. By Lap 56 Truex had lapped half of the 40 cars in the field. At the end of Stage 1, there were only 13 cars remaining on the lead lap. If Truex’s dominance continues as the track transitions from day to night it’s going to be a long race for the other drivers in the Champ-4.
After stage ending pit stops, it was Truex and Kyle Busch at the front of the field. A push from Larson sent Busch to the lead. But a lap later, it was Truex back in front. As the drivers settled into position after the restart it was Treux, Larson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Blaney(12) the top five. Hamlin ran 7th, upfront Truex began to stretch out the lead interval.
The best race on the track was for 3rd as Harvick and Busch traded the position repeatedly. The sun began to set behind the grandstands as Turns 1 & 2 were cloaked with shade around Lap 100.
With no incidents on the track, green flag pit stops began for the leaders on Lap 117. Hamlin, hoping to switch things up was the first of the Champ-4 to pit. Because the tire drop-off is so severe it forces the hands of the other teams and everyone began to come in for service.
Kyle Busch was able to make up a considerable amount of time on his pit stop and took the lead when the stops cycled through.
Trouble for Truex
One of the things that makes this Championship so difficult to win you have to be consistently perfect in all phases of the race. Martin Truex’s crew put the tires on the wrong side of the car and he had to make a second stop to change rubber and correct the error. It was a costly mistake as Treux lost a lap and ran 13th, the 1st car a lap down.
The break Truex needed happened on Lap 136 as the car of John Hunter Nemechek(36) spun off Turn 2 bringing out the caution. Sitting in the “Lucky Dog” position, Truex was able to un-lap himself and return to the rear of the field.
Busch and Harvick restarted on the front row with Busch holding the lead for the first circuit. Harvick passed Kyle on the backstretch and opened a slight advantage. Truex quickly moved into the top 10 on Lap 145 but worked cautiously through the field as they were scrambling for position. At Lap 150 Truex was in 7th, by lap 155 he had moved up to 4th.
Three laps from the end of the Stage, Kyle Busch moved back to the front. Harvick finished 2nd, Larson 3rd, Truex 4th, and Hamlin 5th. The sun began to set as the whole track was now out of the direct sunlight and the sold-out crowd began to pull on jackets as the temperature dropped.
The Final Stage
After Stage ending pit stops, the Champ-4 cars led the parade off pit road. Busch, Harvick, Truex, and Hamlin, with Kyle Larson in 5th. Truex, starting behind Harvick, gave Kevin a big push at the start/finish line on the restart. Whether Harvick spun the tires or the nose of Truex’s car lifted the #4 car’s rear wheels off the track was not clear.
The Champ-4 raced each other like it was the last lap of the race. Ultimately Busch prevailed, with Hamlin in 2nd, Harvick 3rd, and Truex 4th. At this point, it appears to be anyone’s race to win with clean air being the only advantage. At least 1 pit stop remains and a late incident seems to always occur as the track gets slick at night.
By Lap 200, Busch had built a 2.5 second lead on Hamlin, Truex had moved to 3rd and Larson passed Harvick for 4th. Larson pitted with 58 laps to go, Hamlin was in a lap later. followed by Kyle Busch with 57 to go. Truex and Harvick remained on the track, a risky gamble considering how much time you lose with old tires.
Larson was back on pit road on Lap 209, the hood went up and the crew looked at an engine that had retired early. One of the fastest cars all day was out of the race. Truex pitted with 48 to go while Harvick remained on the track hoping for a caution.
Hamlin returned to pit road with 45 laps to go and an engine badly overheating, Harvick followed the 11 down pit road for his stop. Hamlin went two laps down and saw his Championship hopes disappear along with the engine coolant blowing out of his radiator overflow. Harvick went a lap down on pit road, however, he is sitting in the free pass position should a caution come out.
And Then There Were Two
With half the Champ-4 in trouble, it looked as though the fight would be between JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. The pair ran 1-2 with 30 laps to go, Busch leading by 7.7 seconds. How strong is Joe Gibbs Racing? The only JGR car not to earn a Champ-4 spot, Erik Jones(20) runs 3rd late in the race trying to repeat that 1-2-3 team finish at Daytona.
With 25 laps to go, Truex had cut a half-second off Busch’s lead. But, that won’t be enough to get close by the time the checkered flag waves. With fresher tires, Harvick was able to un-lap himself and Hamlin worked his way into the Lucky Dog position. A caution would certainly make the finish a wild ending to the race and the season.
With 10 laps to go, Kyle’s lead had shrunk to 4.6-seconds. Still, the charge was too little, too late.
After a fast start to the year, Kyle Busch had not won a race since June 2nd at Pocono. But, he won the one that counted most. The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship celebration will be a “Rowdy” one.
The victory gave JGR 19 wins in the 2019 season, a modern-era record. For Joe Gibbs, unquestionably one of the most respected individuals in the NASCAR garage, this is his 5th Cup Series championship.
Results of the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway
|1||18||Kyle Busch (P)||—||267|
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||4.578||267|
|4||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||14.100||267|
|10||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||30.520||267|
|19||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-2||265|
|23||36||John Hunter Nemechek||-3||264|