Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – HOMESTEAD, FL – On an emotional night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. fell one place short in his bid for a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and his attempt to deliver a sterling going-away present to Furniture Row Racing.
Truex had the lead with 12 laps left in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the 1.5-mile track, but his No. 78 Toyota was no match for Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford over the short run. Logano blew past Truex through Turn 1 on Lap 256 of 267 and beat the defending champ to the finish line by 1.725 seconds.
“It just didn’t play out the way we needed it to,” said Truex, who was in excellent position to track down Kevin Harvick for a possible victory when contact between the cars of Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez caused the fifth caution of the race and set up a short run that played into Logano’s hands.
“We were terrible for 10, 15 laps on new tires, and I was able to get a good restart at the end, luckily, and get out front—just I had nothing for him at the end. I needed 15, 20 more laps, and that’s just the way it goes. I’m not sure what else to say.”
Now that the season is over, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn will move to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Furniture Row Racing will close its doors, with no primary sponsor to replace 5-hour Energy, which announced in June its departure at season’s end.
“Really proud of everybody on our team for fighting hard this year to get where we were,” Truex said. “Without that last caution, it was in the bag, maybe, I think. We’ll see. But it hurts a little, and I’m going to miss all the guys and had a hell of a five years with this team.
“So just proud of them, and we’re going to celebrate no matter what tonight.”
SUNSET TURNS OUT THE LIGHTS ON KEVIN HARVICK’S CHAMPIONSHIP RUN
Kevin Harvick, an eight-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season, had the dominant car in the daylight hours of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Only one problem: the sun went down.
Harvick charged from a 12th-place starting spot win the race’s first stage. He finished second to Kyle Larson in the second stage and led 58 of the 267 laps, all told.
But when darkness fell, the handling of Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford fell off, and after a late caution and trip to pit road left him fourth for a restart with 15 laps, Harvick had to settle for a third-place finish in lieu of a second series championship.
“Yeah, we had a daytime race car,” Harvick said. “As soon as it got dark, we never could get our car tightened up there at the end. And then they made a great call to put us in position to win the race, and then the caution came out when the 2 car (Brad Keselowski) spun the 19 (Daniel Suarez), and we came off pit road fourth.
“Our strong point was not the restarts tonight and wound up on the wrong side of it.”
Despite the loose handling condition, Harvick was in position to challenge for the win in the late going. He was running second behind Kyle Busch, who needed to pit for fuel and would have had to surrender the lead, setting up a battle for the win between Harvick and fast-charging Martin Truex Jr.
But with the caution on Lap 247, that matchup never materialized.
“They put us in a position to win if the caution didn’t come out, and we had a shot there… It’s just the way it all shook out. The 22 (Logano) could take off really good.”
KYLE BUSCH FIGHTS ILL-HANDLING CAR TO FOURTH-PLACE FINISH
Late-race strategy played out just the way Kyle Busch hoped it would. He just didn’t have the car to take advantage of it.
After fellow Championship 4 contenders Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick came to pit road for fuel and tires on Lap 231 of 267, crew chief Adam Stevens kept Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on the track, hoping for a timely caution as a way to finagle track position.
With Busch in the lead, the serendipitous yellow flag flew on Lap 247 when Daniel Suarez’s Toyota went for a spin off the bumper of Brad Keselowski’s Ford. Busch led the field on and off pit road for the final time, but Truex quickly dispatched him on the subsequent restart, and Logano made the winning pass of Truex three laps later.
The winner of eight races this season, Busch had to settle for fourth at the finish.
“Today we weren’t even close,” said Busch, who started second and had seen encouraging signs in the practices leading up to Sunday’s race. “On the long runs, just couldn’t enter the corner, and we were getting smoked entering the corners and not being able to turn the steering wheel.
“Overall, just a frustrating night. Adam called a great race, got us in position there when we ran-long and caught that caution, luckily, and everything came to fruition. Just when you’re half a second off, you’re not going to hold anybody back.”
Nevertheless, when Busch led the field to the final restart with 15 laps left, there was a glimmer of hope.
“Yeah, I was optimistic about it, but I didn’t think it would be that short-lived,” Busch said. “I figured I could at least maybe lead three or four laps, but Martin got a good restart. Every time I went to the gas, it just spun the tires, so I had to keep coming back out of it, and he’s going forward on me.
“Just didn’t have the best of restarts, for one, but then, for two, once it got down there to the corner, it just didn’t turn anyways, and the 22 (Logano) went by, the 4 (Harvick) went by, everybody went by. Y’all saw that—just slow.”