HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Going into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kyle Busch was searching for a second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
He knew it would be a tough task.
The Las Vegas driver had everything go his way in the first nine races of the Chase for the championship and was in position to get the job done Sunday.
He had finished top 10 in all but one of the Chase races in 2016. The only one he didn’t was at Talladega, a place where he purposely rode around in the back of the pack and never pushed to the front — just so he could advance in the playoffs.
Sunday, in the final stages, it looked like things may go Busch’s way once again. He was running second with just under 50 laps to go and Kyle Larson was leading the race. With Larson not part of the championship four, it was a perfect spot for Busch to ride in and capture the crown.
But let’s be honest: it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Then came teammate Carl Edwards. Then came two caution flags and a four tire pit stop. Then came the checkered flag. And for Busch, it was another top 10 finish with a sixth-place effort, but it wasn’t enough to capture a second straight title in NASCAR’s top series.
“I wish we had more, but it wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Busch said. “This team was up and down for much of the night but this M&M’s team had great fight all year long and we did all of the things we needed to do, we battled hard tonight as well too and we were in position a couple of times, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Congratulations to the No. 48 guys and Jimmie on picking up number seven that’s pretty special, especially at this time, and in this age in the sport. One of these days maybe we will have another chance to race against them, to beat them out. We go home this offseason with a third place in points and try to come back and do it all again next year.”
On lap 241, Busch was leading the rest of his championship contenders, but looking in the mirror, he saw Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards coming hard. Busch was giving everything he had, but he got passed by Edwards on lap 242 and settled in, hoping for a caution to give him one last shot at defending his crown.
With a caution just a few short laps later, Busch got that chance. On the restart, chaos broke loose in front of him. Contact between Edwards and Logano put Busch in position to win the title, restarting third on lap 264. When he got swallowed up on the restart, eventual champion Jimmie Johnson got away from him.
With a gusty call, Busch and his team elected to pit from fifth spot just moments before a green-white-checkered finish in overtime. He lined up 13th for the final restart of the race and in two laps, he was able to drive his way all the way up to sixth, but wasn’t even close to catching Johnson for the win.
“We got railroaded there on that second to last restart and I didn’t get the best of restarts, but then the No.22 came out of nowhere right up through the middle and got me really tight and then really loose down into the corner. Just areo stuff,” Busch said of the call. “I just kind of got behind those guys and then we started to lose ground to the rest of the guys that were around us.”
“It wasn’t going to be worth our while to try to restart up there again and try to take advantage of track position. Really, you need tires to go up there and do that. Everybody pitted under the previous caution when the No.22 did and so it gave him the track position on the restart right behind our teammates there. And we were so far back, we weren’t going to make up the track position on everybody that had one lap on their tires.”
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