Kyle Busch Wins NNS Race and Championship
With the flip of a switch, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), won the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. But with a little flexing of his and his team's Nationwide Series muscle, as has been the case so often during this multiple record-breaking season, Busch went out and put the ultimate exclamation point on the matter by scoring another race win.
Leading second-place Carl Edwards by a 190-point margin to start the day, Busch was simply required to start Saturday's Ford 300 Nationwide Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in order to capture his first title in any of NASCAR's top-three divisions. Once that order of business was taken care of, it was time to have a little fun to close out the season as Busch, who started fifth, went on to lead seven times for a race-high 73 laps en route to his ninth victory and 30th top-10 finish in 35 Nationwide Series starts in 2009. It was also his first victory and third top-10 finish in four Nationwide Series starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The nine wins rank Busch third on the all-time single-season victory list for Nationwide Series competitors.
"It's been a while since that's been done," said Busch about winning the season finale on the same night he clinched the title, a feat last accomplished in the Nationwide Series by Sam Ard in 1983. "I don't mean to be selfish, but that's the way for these guys to go out. They deserve it. This whole team and all these guys that work so hard on this Z-Line Designs Camry. Jim (Sexton, president and CEO of Z-Line Designs) and Monica (Sexton) are here to help us celebrate tonight. This is huge. My mom and dad are here tonight, my brother (Kurt Busch) came up to me before the race knowing that all we had to do was take the green flag -- this is cool. I wish I could've been with Kurt in 2004 winning the championship. This one here means a whole lot for Joe Gibbs Racing and everybody at JGR -- all the guys that work so hard at building these things, not just in the Nationwide shop, but in the Cup shop, the fab shop, everybody. Joe and J.D. Gibbs and everybody is here -- Norm Miller from Interstate Batteries, it's just great."
The victory gave Busch a 210-point lead over Edwards in the season-ending standings. His total of 5,682 points scored this season is the most ever by a Nationwide Series competitor, and his 73 laps led upped his season-ending total to 2,698 laps led on the season, another single-season record. Busch's 25th top-five finish of the season was the most since Jeff Green scored 25 top-fives in a 32-race season in 2000.
Fittingly enough, it was Edwards who pushed Busch all the way to the finish, having pitted late in the race for a fresh set of tires and a final charge to the checkered flag. Busch was able to hold off the series runner-up by .482 of a second at the finish line.
"It was a tough race, for sure," Busch said. "We weren't the best car here for a long time. All the guys made some great race calls, Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and everybody else. That's why we're a championship team and that's why we made it here tonight, because these guys can fight through stuff and we made some adjustments to the car that really brought it to life. I was able to pass those guys on that restart and get up toward the front and lead those laps. When that last caution came out, I knew Carl (Edwards) was going to try to do the same thing that I just did. I was worried that he was going to get back to us."
"Incredible," Ratcliff added about the race win and accompanying championship. "When you stop and think about it, it becomes a little bit emotional. To think about what we're able to do -- the blessings that we've been blessed with all season long -- Kyle and this whole team, what we've been able to accomplish as a group. I don't know. I don't have the words for it right now. It's just awesome to be able to put those goals up there in front of us and go out there and achieve them. We did everything we set out to do, and then even more than we expected. I don't know if we can ever have another season like this, but we're going to try. He (Busch) is incredible. He deserves every record he broke and his name deserves to be by it. We're just glad that we could be a part of it. This group of guys, I've been working with this group for more than four years now and they just never quit. They just keep on, keep on, keep on. We kind of challenge each other. Kyle challenges us when we finish second and then we challenge him in situations like tonight where we make a decent call and get him out front and then he's got to step up on the wheel and show what he's all about."
It was after coming up short in his Nationwide Series championship effort while running just a part-time schedule in 2008 that Busch and the No. 18 team at JGR made a joint commitment to run a full Nationwide Series campaign this season with their collective eye on the title. The result, said Busch, most certainly paid off with the most prized accomplishment of his career to date.
"It was definitely worth it," said the 24-year-old from Las Vegas. "I love being able to race as many vehicles as I can, and this championship right here defines all that and being able to race as many vehicles as I can race and still be able to produce. This is the biggest one -- this is it. It hasn't sunk in yet and it probably won't for a couple of days. Carl (Edwards) told me before the race, 'When I won the championship it didn't mean that much to me the day of, but once it got to the following season and you were called champ or reigning champ or whatever, it really means a lot and really hits home.'"
As for being the first champion to bring home a race win at the season finale in 26 years -- and to have Ard, whose many Nationwide Series records have been surpassed by Busch -- brings an added sense of pride.
"That brings a smile to my face, just the relationship that I've had with Sam and what I've been able to talk to him about," Busch said. "That's the history of this sport -- that's what those guys are all about. Sam and I have some records together and I've broken some of his and I've broken other people's records, but none of them mean as much as being able to win a race at the season finale and really solidify your championship and put icing on the cake."
"This is such a big deal for us and these are so hard to come by," said J.D. Gibbs, JGR president. "I think Nationwide, Cup -- it's just a blessing for us. To watch Kyle and the way he worked through the season and worked with Jason (Ratcliff) and all the guys coming together -- that's a big deal. For us, we'll celebrate this, and this one is going to last quite a while."
Finishing behind Busch and Edwards was Jeff Burton, while Busch's JGR teammates, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top-five. David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Steve Wallace, Scott Speed and Matt Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The race featured seven caution periods for 27 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 200-lap event.
The 2010 Nationwide Series season kicks off with the Feb. 13 Camping World 300 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.