NASCAR » 22 November 2004
Roush rules at Homestead finale.
The lap 171 restart proved crucial for leader Stewart, who was still weaving as they came off turn four, which was against the rules and earned him a black flag. But before he could come in, the yellow flew yet again, for debris. Several cars pitted but notably not Gordon, and when they reformed the Dupont Chevy sat in fourth place and the championship lead, while Busch was back to 24th after another long stop as he continued to complain of right front tyre problems.
Labonte led Newman away with 90 to go but was soon passed by the Dodge as Gordon moved into third, while the forgotten title contenders Earnhardt and Martin had recovered to sixth and seventh with Johnson just behind them, Busch only up to 16th. Now the cautions hit double figures, as Jeff Burton's #30 AOL Chevrolet was tapped by the punctured #41 Target Dodge of Casey Mears and shed its tyre over the track. This time Gordon came in, as did most others, though Martin stayed out and earned his five points. The green flew with 72 to go with Johnson in 11th and the points lead, Gordon and Earnhardt just behind and Busch 19th. Gordon quickly passed his team-mate as Busch also moved up a place, only for the caution to fly yet again as a cover fell off one of the lights on the start gantry, Earnhardt hitting it.
Everyone waited for as long as possible to pit so as to have nough fuel to go to the end. Rusty Wallace led back to the lap 207 restart in the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, while the top four title contenders were together in 20th place back. Gordon quickly got away from Johnson as Busch again slipped back, barely holding onto his title lead.
Lap 225 saw yet another yellow, this time for the detonated engine in Jeff Green's #43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge. Wallace pitted, leaving Newman in the lead from Stewart, Gordon fifth and in the title chase a single point down on 11th-placed Busch. On pit road, fingers were now being bitten to the bone…
The green flew on lap 232 and Gordon moved quickly into fourth, Busch into ninth behind Johnson, as up front Newman and Stewart fought each other for the lead, third-placed Dale Jarrett's #88 UPS Ford soon joining in. But Busch was now on the move, taking seventh and stretching his title advantage to 12 points. But we weren't finished with cautions, Martin Truex Jr blowing a tyre and setting up a final sprint with all three title contenders together.
The green flew with 10 to go and Gordon, knowing he needed to win to take the title, went to the bottom, tapping Joe Nemechek's lapped car out of the way while Busch sat pretty in seventh, waiting for the chequer – only to see leader Newman puncture and hit the wall. This set up a green-white chequer finale, along with the end of second-placed Jarrett's day as the Ford ran out of fuel.
At the restart Biffle snatched the lead and the win while Johnson went round Gordon for second, but none could do anything about Busch, Kurt coming home fifth to win the title by a whole eight points over Johnson. Suddenly his bad mood, which had got worse during the day, evaporated as he celebrated with doughnuts for the crowd. But those with reason to be happiest were NASCAR's rule makers – the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup had provided the closest finish to a series in the Cup's history, not settled until the last lap of the last race. Now we look forward to the 2005 championship – less than three months away…
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