The final race in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was quite emotional. Not only was there a lot on the line for each of the championship 4 drivers (Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr.) but THREE big-name drivers were retiring (or, at least semi-retiring) after impressive careers. These include Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick.
Before the race began, as Dale Earnhardt Jr drove down pit road, he was greeted by every member of every team. They lined up for a high-five from Jr while he drove past as a salute to his impressive 17-year career in the Cup Series. Earnhardt invited Matt Kenseth for a lap around the track side-by-side.
The race finally started after much-deserved pageantry to pay homage to the existing drivers. After completing only 6 laps, Joey Gase smacked the wall and brought out the caution. The rest of the first stage ran without incident and when the green-checkered flag flew, it was Kyle Larson who got the stage victory. At this time, Brad Keselowski was leading among the 4 championship drivers.
Stage Two only saw one caution when in her final race as a full-time driver, Danica Patrick got loose and hit the wall in Turn 2. The damage wasn’t bad until Kasey Kahne slammed into her #10 Ford from behind. Patrick was done for the day. Kyle Larson won this stage as well, and championship drivers Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. traded back and forth for the lead in the title race.
The final stage saw nothing but aggressive racing between the 4 championship drivers as they all battled for position in the Top 10. When the caution came with 38 laps to go, all 4 drivers came to pit road, with Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch coming off pitlane 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively. After a hard battle, Truex captured and held on to the top spot and pulled out to a .736-second lead. Kyle Busch ran third followed by Larson. Kyle Busch passed Harvick on the backstretch for second on Lap 249.
“I need help,” Truex yelled to his spotter as he approached lap traffic and Busch closed to within a half-second. Truex and his #78 Toyota pulled out to a .625-second lead over Busch with 10 laps to go once the #78 found a comfortable groove on the track. Kyle Busch moved to the low line to gain on Truex with five to go and Larson closing in, but all three held their positions to the finish line.
Martin Truex Jr not only won the race but also the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship for the first time in his career. Truex led all drivers in most wins, most Top-5s, most Top-10s, and most laps led throughout the season. With tears in his eyes, he performed his most celebratory burnout of the year and some #78 team-members choked up as well. Then it was onto victory lane for the celebration.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back in Daytona for the first race of the 2018 season on February 18th. Get your tickets HERE