Truex claims EcoBoost 400, Cup Series title

First top series title for New Jersey-born driver

NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. celebrates winning the NASCAR Cup Championship after winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 and the NASCAR Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (John David Mercer / USA TODAY Sports)


HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Martin Truex Jr. claimed his eighth win of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Series season Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With the win, Truex also won his first Cup Series championship.

“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.”

Truex had to battle another championship candidate, Kyle Busch, in the closing laps. Busch took runner-up honors.

Kyle Larson finished third. The other two Championship Four drivers, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, finished fourth and seventh, respectively. Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.

“We just got really loose, and then, got a hole in the nose, and it started to get tight in,” Harvick said. “We got that fixed. We were pretty good on the next-to-last run, and we were just really loose on the last run.”

Truex was the first off pit to start the final stage of the race just past lap 160. Busch, though, inherited the lead through a planned pit strategy of splitting the final stage of the race into halves, making only one additional pit stop, while many teams, including those of the other three championship contenders planned on two additional stops. Truex retook the lead when Busch made his stop.

“We just never gave up all day long,” Truex said. “We didn’t have the best car. I don’t know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep. I told my guys we were going to dig deeper than we ever have today, and 20 to go, I thought I was done; they were all better than me on the long run all day long. I just found a way.”

The one-stop strategy blew out the window when the yellow flag waved for the fifth and final time for an incident involving Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones with 37 laps remaining and everyone pitted. Truex restarted with the lead and Busch in third, with Harvick next to Truex on the front row in third.

Larson won both of the first two 80-lap stages and dominated the first 160 laps of the race after a call to pit for tires during the first caution of the race that came as a result of a Joey Gase wreck on lap five.

After Denny Hamlin started on the pole and Truex led the opening laps, Larson, Keselowski and a few others opted to pit during the first caution. Larson was able to take the lead one lap after the race restarted on Lap 13, despite restarting 12th, running 4 mph faster than the previous frontrunners who stayed out.

Keselowski followed Larson through traffic and got up to second and was still running second to Larson at the end of the first stage. By the end of the opening stage, Larson had a lead of more than 10 seconds on Keselowski.

“I feel like I left it all out there and ran a damn near perfect race, but we just didn’t have enough speed,” Keselowski said.

Harvick and Kyle Busch both got by Keselowski early in the second stage to take second and third and traded those positions back-and-forth several times. Truex got up to second on a restart with 10 laps remaining in the second stage to finish the stage second to Larson and the highest among the four championship contenders.

All four of the Championship Four drivers ran inside the top five through most of the first two stages of the race and occupied the other top-five positions in the running order behind Larson at the end of stage two at Lap 160.

Danica Patrick, in her final race for Stewart-Haas Racing, crashed as a result of a tire rub and was out after 139 laps. She finished 37th.

NOTES: The Ford EcoBoost 400 punctuated the retirement from full-time competition for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. … Earnhardt dropped to the back at the start of the race because of an engine change Friday before qualifying. … Jimmie Johnson won the 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 en route to his history-matching seventh championship. … The Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale has been won by the same-season series champion in each of the previous three years since the implementation of the playoff/chase elimination format. … Two Joe Gibbs Racing spotters for Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez had personal items, including radio equipment used in spotting, stolen from a rental car in Homestead on Thursday evening. … Hamlin is the only multi-race winner at Homestead-Miami among active drivers with two victories. … Martin Truex Jr. was the only Championship Driver who did not already have a Cup Series championship heading into Sunday’s race. … Truex and Brad Keselowski were the only two of the Championship Four drivers who entered Sunday’s race without a previous win at Homestead.