NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Busch Hoists the Cup in Homestead

NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Busch Hoists the Cup in Homestead

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch overcame a season of adversity and the other Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors to win at the Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and take the season's championship. For the second season running, the winner of the Sprint Cup championship took the title by winning at Homestead. Busch looked set to cruise home in second position behind Brad Keselowski in the closing miles when a very late debris caution sent all the leaders to pit road for one final restart. That interruption actually played to Busch's favor, as he was able to overcome Keselowski and streak ahead to victory.

Sunday's win was Busch's fifth of the season and capped off a fairytale year. It started as a season that was almost over almost before it began, as he crashed heavily at Daytona in the Xfinity series. In the crash he broke his leg and foot, which forced him to miss every race until Memorial Day weekend's 600-mile race in Charlotte. It took just one more month for him to rediscover Victory Lane, which checked the first box on his to-do list to earn a spot in the Chase. After three more wins in the next four races, that spot in the Chase seemed a near certainty. His work began with the Chase, and he found himself in contention in Homestead. It's a fitting result to a season of surprises and is a job well done for the No. 18 team.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – In the

Kyle Busch overcame a season of adversity and the other Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors to win at the Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and take the season's championship. For the second season running, the winner of the Sprint Cup championship took the title by winning at Homestead. Busch looked set to cruise home in second position behind Brad Keselowski in the closing miles when a very late debris caution sent all the leaders to pit road for one final restart. That interruption actually played to Busch's favor, as he was able to overcome Keselowski and streak ahead to victory.

Sunday's win was Busch's fifth of the season and capped off a fairytale year. It started as a season that was almost over almost before it began, as he crashed heavily at Daytona in the Xfinity series. In the crash he broke his leg and foot, which forced him to miss every race until Memorial Day weekend's 600-mile race in Charlotte. It took just one more month for him to rediscover Victory Lane, which checked the first box on his to-do list to earn a spot in the Chase. After three more wins in the next four races, that spot in the Chase seemed a near certainty. His work began with the Chase, and he found himself in contention in Homestead. It's a fitting result to a season of surprises and is a job well done for the No. 18 team.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – In the most unlikely of comebacks, Busch secured his first Sprint Cup championship by winning his first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week. He started the season in the worst possible way by breaking his leg and foot at Daytona and missing the first portion of the 2015 season. He came back to win four times in five races, and then clawed his way into the top-30 in points to claim his spot in the Chase. He navigated the elimination rounds all the way to Homestead where he drove one of the best races of his career. He overcame Keselowski in the closing laps, and cruised to victory. It was a season worthy of a title, and it will be remembered.

Jeff Gordon – To retire from a sport while still at the pinnacle of success is something any athlete dreams of, and Gordon achieved that in 2015. His final season started with plenty of mistakes and hiccups, but the team pulled together to qualify for the Chase and then won at Martinsville Speedway. That final victory of his career propelled him into the final race to fight for a fifth title. It wasn't to be for the retiring legend, but he capped off his career with one final top-10 finish. Next season will be different, as Chase Elliott will pilot the No. 24 as Gordon steps into the television booth as a commentator. He will be remembered as one of the greatest, and will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Kevin Harvick – After coming in second to Busch Sunday night at Homestead, Harvick secured himself a spot in the top 3 series finishers for the fifth time in the last six seasons. He won his first title in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and fought his way back to the final round again in 2015. He narrowly missed back-to-back championships, but he's proving to be the most consistent driver in Sprint Cup. This past season saw him set career high tallies of top-10s and top-5s, which is certainly a championship-caliber performance. Harvick may have put more pressure on himself this year after winning it all last season, but rest assured he'll be back with a vengeance in 2016.

Joey Logano – Logano won the most races in 2015 (six) and showed that he continues to improve and mature as a driver. He may not have won many fans in his feud with Matt Kenseth, but he did prove for the second year running that he's not going to be pushed around. Logano not only continues to demand respect from other competitors, but he was also the best driver in the closing weeks of the season. Under the normal points system (non-Chase rules) he would have relinquished the lead to Kevin Harvick after Phoenix. Logano was a strong competitor in both seasons of the knockout Chase format and peaked at the right time. After resurrecting his career with Penske Racing, he's a champion of the future.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex had a breakout year in 2015. His string of top-10 finishes to start the season showed that he deserved a spot in the Chase. His Pocono win guaranteed him that chance, and his perseverance and improvement got him to Homestead in contention for the title. It was a season of massive improvement from Truex and could signal even more to come from this driver. His career in Sprint Cup started with plenty of hype, but his potential didn't fully manifest itself until this season. Truex may not reach the heights of 2015 next season, but he proved he should be a consistent top performer from now on.

DOWNGRADE

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer's crash in Homestead is largely representative of his entire 2015 season. It's been a trying year for the driver, who found out that Michael Waltrip Racing won't be back in competition in 2016. He'll spend next season exiled to HScott Motorsports before taking the wheel of the No. 14 from retiring Tony Stewart. This 2015 season was the worst of Bowyer's career. He had only half of the top-5 finishes that he had had in his first full season in the series, and he led the least amount of laps this season than in any of his other full seasons. With the knowledge that he'll be behind the wheel of a lower-tier team as only an interim solution, Bowyer has another difficult year ahead.

Tony Stewart – Stewart suffered his worst season in Sprint Cup in 2015. He entered the series in 1999 and scored a victory in every season thereafter until 2013. He had never failed to notch a top-5 until this past season. Next year will be his last in the series full time, and the former champion will desperately hope to go out with a roar instead of a whimper. He'll have plenty of work to do in the winter months for that to become a reality. After next season, Stewart will relinquish the wheel of his machine to Bowyer and focus his efforts on his many business endeavors. This winter may be a long one for him and the No. 14 crew.

Greg Biffle – Another driver hoping to put 2015 behind him is Biffle. Roush Fenway Racing was largely uncompetitive, and the elder statesman of the team squeezed out just three top-5s and one other top-10 in an otherwise forgettable year. Without teammate Carl Edwards in the organization to help troubleshoot the problems, the entire organization seemed to falter. Those effects weren't felt in the Xfinity side of the garage, as Chris Buescher won that title, but Sprint Cup proved to be a long arduous haul. This team needs to spend the winter improving the performance characteristics of their machines since they were outclassed every week this year. Perhaps they can start by leveraging what worked for Buescher.

Sam Hornish Jr. – Hornish deservedly earned a full-time spot with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, but all did not go as planned. Hornish was outside of the top 20 contenders in points prior to Homestead with just three top-10 finishes to his credit. It was a long and difficult season filling the shoes of Marcos Ambrose, who contended for wins consistently on road course circuits. Ambrose and RPM will part company for 2016, and Hornish doesn't have a full-time Sprint Cup ride as the 2015 season ends. The IndyCar champion hasn't been able to find success in NASCAR's top tier, and his lackluster tally from 2015 will likely be his last in the series.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt Kenseth – The knockout Chase format has certainly brought out emotions in some of the competitors. The normally calm and collected Kenseth is one of them. Tensions boiled over for Kenseth last season with Brad Keselowski and then hit the critical mark again this year when he rammed Logano out of the lead (and the championship hunt) in Martinsville. Kenseth was parked for two races for those actions, which all but assured his tumble down the Chase standings after a very strong year. He finished the schedule in 15th, which was his worst finish in the annual standings since joining the series full time. Kenseth needs to harness his temper for good in order to navigate the Chase pressure cooker, and will have to do some recalibration this winter.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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