Kyle Busch knew he had lost before it even happened.
“Race is over,” Busch said over the radio with 25 laps to go in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His spotter responded that no it wasn’t, even though Busch was trailing the leader Martin Truex Jr. by 2.7 seconds at the time.
Turns out Busch knew what he was talking about.
He finished Sunday’s race in second, the season in second – all of which cost him a championship that would have been his ... second. Busch did have the fastest car on Sunday, passing Truex at times earlier in the race, but he basically ran out of time.
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“I was making up some ground (at the end),” Busch said, “but it wasn’t enough.”
Busch may point to one point or another in the race where things got away from him, but really it came down to this. He gambled. He made a gutsy call. And then bad luck did him in.
Midway through the third and final stage of the race, Truex pitted. So did Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, the other two championship contenders. But not Busch.
Instead, he opted to wait, build an advantage and only stop once (as compared to twice for the other three contenders). That meant as long as there were no cautions for the rest of the race, Busch would likely be in the clear. No cautions, and Busch would take home the trophy.
“It did cost us track position,” Kyle Busch said, “but I was all for it.”
Only his brother Kurt Busch did him in. Kurt Busch spun out in the inside corner and caused the yellow flag to come out with 38 laps left, which gave everyone else a chance to get in that second stop for free. Kyle Busch pitted with the rest of the field, but Truex had already assumed the lead by then.
Over the last 34 laps, Busch clawed and scraped and pushed to dodge through the traffic and make it back to Truex. Eventually Busch made it to Truex’s rear bumper. He swerved low, and then high again, and even tried going straight down the middle, but none of it worked. Truex, as has been the case all season, was just a teeny bit better.
The other contenders, Harvick and Keselowski, had their moments throughout the race, especially at points when Harvick led, but they were less of legitimate contenders on Sunday. That makes sense, considering Keselowski backed into the championship race and Harvick had really only peaked these last few weeks.
“They've had the fastest car all year,” Harvick said of Truex and his No. 78 team, “so it was good to see him win.”
Kyle Busch, though, was less congratulatory and more dejected, naturally so considering how close he came – the official scoreboard will say he lost by barely half of a second – to standing up on that stage and celebrating himself.
Instead, Busch knew with 25 laps to go that his odds were bad. He knew it would take some error by Truex, some miracle, some unforeseen feat to net him the championship.
And none of that happened.
“I tried to stay, and if he made a mistake or if he caught the wall or something like that, then I could try to pounce,” Busch said, “but that never happened.”