HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Kyle Busch capped off a remarkable season for Joe Gibbs Racing with the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship—and a joy ride for his son Brexton.
The youngster wasn’t old enough to remember Busch’s first title in 2015, but he’ll never forget the second. On a night when Busch needed to perform to perfection, he did just that at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He led 120 of 267 laps to score his fifth win of the year and a record-19th for JGR.
As his fellow Championship 4 competitors experienced one issue after another on Sunday, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team executed flawlessly in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
“We have a great race team and a great owner, even the best sponsor in sports,” Busch said. “I just can't say enough, thank everyone enough for this opportunity.
“I may be the one that's able to hoist the trophy or have a championship, but it wouldn't be possible without (crew chief) Adam Stevens, (team owners) Coach Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, the whole family. What their family went through this year means so much to bring them home a title. M&M's, of course. Interstate Batteries, Norm Miller, and Toyota.”
JGR swept the podium with Martin Truex Jr. finishing second followed by Erik Jones. Kevin Harvick was fourth followed by Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman. Tenth-place Denny Hamlin, who started from the pole, was the last car on the lead lap.
Harvick flexed his muscles early and led the first 20 laps. Truex quickly came alive, passed Harvick on Lap 21 and led all but one of the next 65 laps. Truex appeared to be the early favorite but the No. 19 JGR team committed the first faux pas after the pit crew swapped the front tires—right on the left and left on the right—during the Lap 120 pit stop. Crew chief Cole Pearn called Truex back to the pits on the next lap to correct the miscue. Truex dropped to 13th, one lap down.
“Ultimately, it was the loss of track position that bit us,” Truex said. “We restarted the third stage in third, and really wish I could have been either second or fourth. I got blitzed on the outside by the 20 (Jones) and the 22 (Logano) and a couple of those guys, and then I had to just run the crap out of my right front to get by back them, and I got tight on that run, and it took me forever to just get by a few cars
“At the end we were quite a bit quicker, but it's just—it was too much of a gap. Yeah, it's part of the deal. You've got to be perfect, you know, and one mistake probably cost us a shot at it.”
When John Hunter Nemechek spun in Turn 2 on Lap 136, Truex received the lucky dog and returned to the lead lap. Over the final 18 circuits of Stage 2, the No. 19 motored from 13th to fourth. Kyle Busch won the stage followed by Harvick, Larson, Truex and Hamlin.
While all four title contenders led laps throughout the course of the race, night time was the right time for Busch. Once the sun set for the final stage, the No. 18 came to life. Busch led 86 of 101 laps.
“This TRD engine was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It's been awesome all year. Man, it's so much fun to work with these guys, this group, everybody that puts it all together for me.”
For the final round of green-flag pit stops, Hamlin was the first to pit on Lap 209. Busch relinquished the lead when he came in for service on the next lap. Truex assumed the point but pitted four laps later turning the lead over to Harvick on Lap 215.
When Hamlin’s car began to overheat, crew chief Chris Gabehart called his driver in to remove tape off the grille on Lap 221. He dropped to 19th, one lap down.
“We got a little aggressive there, and it cost us,” Hamlin said. “(Gabehart) has 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.”
Harvick’s team kept the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford on the track until Lap 223, hoping a yellow would slow the pace of the race. Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off for crew chief Rodney Childers and Harvick.
“Well, we just needed to do something different,” Harvick said. “Those guys, they were so much better than us on the long run. 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.”
After Harvick came in, Busch cycled out to the lead and extended his advantage to 4.578-seconds over Truex at the finish.
Despite entering the weekend with a 21-race winless streak, Busch didn’t believe a lack of momentum would keep the team from Victory Lane.
“There are always your doubters,” Busch said. “There are always your haters. You know what, this one's for Rowdy Nation because you guys are the best. Thank you so much.”
Busch delivered JGR its fifth Cup title and the third for Toyota. He also dedicated the championship to the Gibbs family, who endured heartache following the loss of former team president J.D. Gibbs from a neurological disease in January.
“I know it's been a difficult time on Melissa (J.D.’s wife) and Joe,” Busch said. “To be able to reward them with a championship, I don't know how much it means to them, but it's the best I can do.
“I know J.D. was looking down on us all year long. I mean, damn, what a season Joe Gibbs Racing put together. For as awesome as our group is, everybody back in the shop, how awesome they are at building some really, really special race cars. We put it on them this time.”