It came down to the last lap -- and even beyond -- to determine the inaugural NEXTEL Cup champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the end, Kurt Busch drove the wheels off the No. 97 Roush Racing Ford to take fifth place and earn his first Cup ...
It came down to the last lap -- and even beyond -- to determine the inaugural NEXTEL Cup champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the end, Kurt Busch drove the wheels off the No. 97 Roush Racing Ford to take fifth place and earn his first Cup championship.
Busch had nothing but bad luck all afternoon, but was able to remain calm and overcome adversity at every turn to stay alive in the championship fight. The first obstacle on his road to the Cup popped up at lap 91 when the right front wheel fell off the No. 97 Ford, sending him from second spot to 27th.
"I was in stitches those last few laps," Busch said. "I was just sick to my stomach. I had the whole world on my shoulders every lap today. To be able to cap off a great season, it's just wonderful."
Busch battled back to 19th after the wheel incident, but on a pit stop on lap 112, his crew looked baffled as crew chief Jimmy Fennig changed his mind mid-stop between taking four tires or two. The miscue resulted in an embarrassingly long stop that saw Busch restart 26th.
"I had the 24 in front of me and the 48 after that," said Busch of the race. "I was trying to do math in my head and I had all these things in my head. In turn four, I realized we had it and I was just overcome with emotion."
He finished the race fifth.
"Kurt is an incredible quick study, once he understands how something works he never forgets it," said team owner Jack Roush.
Johnson and Gordon pressed hard to gain spots on Busch, but in the end it was Busch's day to walk away with the sterling silver Tiffany & Co. trophy as the fourth-youngest driver in NASCAR history to win the championship.
Busch first emerged as a championship hopeful after the seventh race of the season at Texas when he left with the point lead. He would only lead for one race, before being at the top again after tying with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. after the first chase race in New Hampshire, which Busch won.
Johnson finished second in the final standings, losing by just eight points to Busch. Jeff Gordon (-16), Mark Martin (-107), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-138), Tony Stewart (-180), Ryan Newman (-326), Matt Kenseth (-437), Elliott Sadler (-482), and Jeremy Mayfield (-506) round up the top ten in series rankings.
Jamie McMurray pulled off the 11th-place finish for the season, earning the NASCAR bonus and grabbing a table at the NEXTEL Cup Series banquet.
The win by Busch makes it back-to-back championship wins for Roush Racing. Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford, was the 2003 series champion who earned Roush his first ever series crown.