HOMESTEAD — Martin Truex capped the most successful season of his journeyman career as NASCAR’s champion.
Truex wrapped up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup title Sunday by winning the Ford EcoBoost 400, where he beat Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski for the championship. All but Truex were former champions, but Truex was the favorite.
He thrived in that role, didn’t flinch when fellow Toyota driver Busch tried to use a different pit strategy to steal the race and then held off a hard-charging Busch over the final 12 laps to capture the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It was the eighth win of the season for Truex and first championship for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing. It was the second title in three years for manufacturer Toyota.
"Just a dream season. I was going to be gutted if we didn’t win," Truex said. "We gave it our all, and it was enough tonight."
Busch finished second for Joe Gibbs Racing as Toyota, the most dominant manufacturer this season, went 1-2 in the finale.
Kyle Larson, who was eliminated from the playoffs last month, finished third in a Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. Harvick, seeking his second title, was fourth in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Keselowski wound up seventh and was stopped short in trying to give Team Penske a season sweep of the two top American racing series. Penske won the IndyCar title in September.
Truex, 37, climbed from his car on the frontstretch of the track and was mobbed by teammates. Longtime partner Sherry Pollex, 37, who had a recurrence of ovarian cancer this year, pushed her way through the crowd and embraced Truex.
Truex sobbed tears of joy.
"A lot of it was for (Pollex). A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team," Truex said. "I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid. Just never give up on your dreams no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through."
Missing from the celebration party was Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser. He suffered a heart attack two weeks ago and is sidelined in Colorado.
Truex led nearly every statistical category this year, including wins, laps led and stage victories. Heading into Homestead, six of Truex’s wins came on 1½-mile tracks, the same layout as Homestead. Now seven of his career-best eight wins are on those sized tracks.
"I mean, yeah, they’ve had the fastest car all year, so it was good to see him win," said Harvick.
Keselowski reiterated that he believed the redesigned Toyota Camry had an advantage over the competition since it debuted this season, and Chevrolet will catch up with its new Camaro next year. Ford has no plans for a redesign.
It was the final race as full-time drivers for Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt retired after his 25th-place finish.
Earnhardt popped out of his car on pit-road, flashed a thumbs-up sign and chugged a Budweiser. Drenched in sweat and suds, he grabbed another cold one, then passed the brews around to his crew members.
Earnhardt left his party to seek out hunting buddy and best friend, Truex on the stage.
Earnhardt gets to keep the weathered Chevrolet as a parting gift from team owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick kept Earnhardt’s race-worn helmet. Earnhardt planted a kiss on Hendrick’s cheek after the race and they smothered each other in a bear hug that neither man seemed to want to let go.
"He’s like a daddy. Trying to tell him how much he means to me is really hard," Earnhardt said.
Patrick wrecked when a tire blew out and finished 37th. Patrick said this weekend that she would race in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 next season then retire.