HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Kyle Busch pulled away in the final third of the race, took the victory and clinched his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We were the underdog, or so everybody said,” Busch said. “That was the consensus. It was the same thing in 2015 when I won the first time.”
It was the fifth victory of the 2019 season for Busch, 34, and the 19th victory of the season for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, a record in the 36-race season series.
Busch edged two other Gibbs teammates who were among the four title contenders entering the 400-mile race: the early leader Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, whose pit crews each made critical blunders that took them out of contention.
The fourth finalist, Kevin Harvick, challenged for the lead at various points of the race, but couldn’t make his Ford stick on the long, green-flag runs.
Truex came in second, four seconds back, after dominating the first half of the race. His crew accidentally put the wrong tires on during a pit stop, forcing him to make an extra stop to have them replaced — a delay that ultimately prevented him from catching Busch.
Erik Jones, a teammate who was not among the title contenders, finished third. Harvick was fourth, followed by his teammate Clint Bowyer.
Hamlin came in 10th after his car started overheating. He had been right behind Busch until he had a disastrous late pit stop, in which his crew decided to try to block air flow to the engine to make it run faster. The blockage was too much, and instead caused the radiator to boil over.
Busch avoided any problems on the track, and his crew avoided any serious mistakes as they kept his Toyota running well despite changing track conditions and drastically cooling temperatures.
“I knew it would take a mistake-free race to win, and I was proved right,” Busch said. “It means everything to win this championship again. There were a lot of doubters when we won the first one.”
Busch’s first title, in 2015, came after he had earned an injury waiver to excuse him from missing much of the first half of the season because of a broken leg and foot he sustained in a crash at the season opener. Usually, drivers must contend every race of the series to be eligible for the title.
“I can’t wait to get ready to chase a third title next year,” he said Sunday. “Titles are my legacy, and I want to win a bunch of them. I think I should have more titles than this already.”
In fact, Busch is now the only active series driver to have more than one championship to his credit, except for the seven-time titlist Jimmie Johnson. According to NASCAR, Busch has more wins this decade than any other driver in the series. The win also gave him 56 career Cup Series victories, giving him sole possession of ninth on the career list, one ahead of Rusty Wallace.
Busch started the race in fourth; qualifying had been rained out, so the starting order was determined by points, with Hamlin in the top position.
After some initial trading of positions, Truex pulled away from the pack. He led until the first round of pit stops — only 37 laps into the 267-lap contest. All of the contenders complained of a high rate of tire wear. The weather was also a factor; it was only 67 degrees for the first lap, an unusually low temperature. A cold front went through the area Friday.
After Busch emerged as the winner and champion, the team owner Joe Gibbs dedicated the moment to his son, J.D. Gibbs, a co-founder and former president of the team who died in January.
“This is a very emotional victory for our team,” Joe Gibbs said. “We did it for J.D. This whole season is dedicated to him.”