At the end of a riveting, breathtaking battle that had fans in the grandstands on their feet long after the checkered flag, Martin Truex Jr. held off Kyle Busch by .681 seconds at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 and his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
In Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last race in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Truex-one of Earnhardt's closest friends-kept Busch behind him during a 34-lap green-flag run to the finish.
"It's just overwhelming," a tearful Truex said in Victory Lane. "To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that we couldn't run 20th, to be here-I never thought this day would come, and to be here 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.
"A lot of it was for her," said Truex, who won for the first time at Homestead and the 15th time in his career. "A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team - just, I don't even know what to say. We just never gave up all day long. We didn't have the best car. I don't know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep."
The victory also was entirely appropriate. For the bulk of the season, Truex was the top driver in the series. Sunday's victory was his eighth of the year, a series-best, and his seventh on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways. Truex had the No. 78 Toyota out front for 78 laps on Sunday, bringing his season total of laps led to a career-best 2,253, also tops in the series.
With an excellent long-run car, Busch slipped to fourth after the final restart on Lap 234 of 267 and needed nine laps to pass the stubborn No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano. Seven laps later, Busch slipped past fellow Championship 4 contender Kevin Harvick into second and set his sights on Truex.
Busch closed rapidly, but Truex found a line that allowed him to maintain an edge that shrank to as little as two car lengths. But Busch never could pull alongside his fellow Camry driver, and Truex inched away over the last four circuits.
"I told my guys we were going to dig deeper than we ever have today, and (with) 20 (laps) to go, I thought I was done - they were all better than me on the long run all day long," Truex said. "I just found a way. I found a lane that I could use, and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn't use it and just made it happen.
"I can't believe it. I've wanted this since I was a little kid and just never give up. Just never give up on your dreams, no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through. And thank you, Barney. I wish you were here, buddy."
Kyle Larson finished third, closely trailing the championship battle after moving past Harvick for third on Lap 252. Harvick came home fourth, after debris from David Starr's Chevrolet punched a hole in the nose of the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
"I was just really loose the whole last run," Harvick said. "When it started to get dark, we started to get tight in the corner, and then we got a hole in the nose. We got that fixed and just couldn't quite get it where we needed to be to make good times.
"Some runs we fell off. Some runs we were tight on entry. There at the end we were just too loose."
Chase Elliott and Joey Logano ran fifth and sixth, respectively. Playoff driver Brad Keselowski finished sixth, ending the season fourth in the series standings.
Busch opted for a one-pit-stop strategy during the final stage of the race and appeared headed for the title until his brother, Kurt Busch, spun in Turn 4 on Lap 227 to bring out the fifth and final caution of the event and bunch the field for the restart on Lap 234.
"Yeah, it wasn't quite what we wanted there at the end," Busch said. "I thought we had a really great race car. Especially on the long runs, we were really, really good. Just came down to there at the end, not having enough tire when I got to the 78.
"So I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with the 22 (Logano) trying to get by him and just overworked everything, and got to the 4 (Harvick), got by him pretty quick. I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life, but didn't seem to pay me off any when I got to the 78."
Notes: Earnhardt finished 25th in his final run in the No. 88 Chevy... Danica Patrick cut a tire and clobbered the Turn 2 wall on Lap 142 in her final trip in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. She plans to race in the Cup series for the final time in the 2018 Daytona 500... Patrick also collected Kasey Kahne in her wreck. Kahne ran his final race for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday and will move to the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet next season... Truex's teammate, Erik Jones, was crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the series after finishing 21st. Jones will take Matt Kenseth's place in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota next season. Kenseth finished eighth Sunday in his final ride in the car.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ----
Following a long and winding road, Martin Truex Jr. finally owns the biggest prize in motorsports.
The driver of the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota capped off a dominant season in fitting fashion -by capturing the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with a stirring victory in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
To take the title, Truex outdueled his Championship 4 competitors #18-Kyle Busch (second), #4-Kevin Harvick (fourth) and #2-Brad Keselowski (seventh).
The Mayetta, New Jersey, native was the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' best driver all year, winning the regular season championship on the strength of four victories.
Once the playoffs began, Truex upped his performance to another level, recording a top-five finish in every postseason race except for Talladega. He won four times, including the playoff-opening race at Chicagoland, twice in the Round of 12 (Charlotte and Kansas) and the season finale at Homestead.
Truex finished the season with career highs in wins (8), top fives (19), top 10s (26) and laps led (2,250). He led the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in all those stat categories.
Truex's title also marks the first championship for Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing and owner Barney Visser.
A two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, Truex joins Busch, Harvick, Keselowski and Bobby Labonte as the fifth driver in history with both an XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
He is the first champion from New Jersey.
Truex's teammate Erik Jones captured the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Driving the #77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, Jones scored a rookie-high five top fives and 14 tops 10s.
On the strength of 16 victories, Toyota won its second-consecutive Monster Energy Series Manufacturers' Championship.
--- NASCAR ---
MARTIN TRUEX JR, #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota Camry, Furniture Row Racing
Q) How much of this season was for your girlfriend Sherry Pollex?
TRUEX JR. "A lot of it was for her. A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team - just, I don't even know what to say. We just never gave up all day long. 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 dipper 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. I found a lane that I could use and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn't use it and just made it happen. I can't believe it. I've wanted this since I was a little kid and just never give up. Just never give up on your dreams no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through and thank you Barney (Visser, team owner). I wish you were here, buddy. Thank you, Johnny (Morris, Bass Pro Shops), all our partners this year. What can I say about this team? Cole Pearn, Jazzy, all the road guys, the guys in Denver - you guys are the best, man. They work their guts out for me and I don't even know - this is unbelievable, a dream come true. I don't even know. I couldn't even talk on the cautions laps, so just really thankful, really grateful and thank you to the fans. We're going to party it up tonight."
Q) What does it mean to win this championship when you thought your career was near over at one point?
TRUEX JR. "It's just overwhelming. 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."
Q) What does it mean to you to have this fan support?
TRUEX JR. "Thank you guys so much for all your support - it helps us. It pushed us here tonight. It helps Sherry (Pollex) with her battle and positive info and positive mojo. We couldn't do it without the fans and I couldn't do it without this team and I couldn't do it with Sherry and all her support. You guys here, NBC, FOX, earlier in the year. It's just a dream season and I was going to be gutted if we didn't win, but I was still going to know we gave it our all and luckily it was enough tonight."
--- Toyota Racing ---