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Martin Truex Jr. wins first NASCAR championship in thrilling season finale

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- He was not the best car on Sunday, nor the fastest, but none of that mattered -- at last, Martin Truex Jr. is a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Truex's struggles have been long-documented, everything from losing his ride in the prime of his career to his girlfriend's cancer diagnosis three years ago, and yet still, he fought back in 2017. All season long Truex has been dominant, as his seven wins coming into Sunday will attest, but this eighth win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale will be the one that defines his season.

The race started OK for Truex, but he lingered just outside of the top spot until the third and final stage. At that point, he jumped to the lead and, thanks to an advantageous caution, was able to keep it. The last little bit of the race was spent trying to fend off Kyle Busch, who had a faster car for large swathes of the race but eventually ran out of time.

And then there was Truex, as has been the case so many times this season, crossing the finish line before any other driver. The crowd erupted, as did Truex's entire No. 78 team, and of course, Truex himself.

After everything, he deserved a championship -- now he finally has one.

Race breakdown

Stage 1: Kyle Larson pitted about five laps into the race for fresh tires, and then immediately climbed up 11 spots to take the lead. He then built on that advantage to win Stage 1, while the championship contenders finished in the next four spots: Keselowski second, Busch third, Harvick fourth, and Truex fifth.

Stage 2: Larson won the second stage too, albeit by a smaller margin after a restart with about 10 laps to go. Truex hadn't been great in Stage 2, but he took full advantage of that restart to climb up to second place and the lead amongst the championship four. Following him were Kevin Harvick (third), Kyle Busch (fourth), and Brad Keselowski (fifth).

Stage 3: Busch made a gutsy pit decision that ended up backfiring on him when his brother Kurt Busch crashed out and caused a caution. That meant Truex, who was leading at the time, could pit with everyone else and maintain his lead, eventually holding it to the race's finish.

 

Three who mattered

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been the fastest car all season, and it finally paid off for him at Homestead. He won his first career NASCAR Cup Series title after coming up short the past two seasons.

Kyle Busch: Busch was arguably faster than Truex on Sunday, but when a late caution allowed all drivers to pit, Busch was left with two much ground to make up and finished second.

Kurt Busch: His spin on the inside corner with less than 50 laps to go in the race was about the worst thing that could have happened to his brother Kyle, who needed a long run without cautions to make up lost ground.

(c)2017 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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