By Andrew Charman
Kurt Busch held onto the points lead he had nurtured through the last few weeks to win his first NASCAR Nextel Cup, but the series finale at Miami's Homestead finale proved a nail-biter with Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson both coming close to snatching the title. It was a great day for Busch's Roush Racing squad as almost un-noticed his team-mate Greg Biffle won the race.
The drama started early – barely had Kurt Busch earned his five point bonus by leading the first of 267 laps in his #97 Sharpie/Irwin Ford than the yellow was flying, as at the back of the field Mike Bliss and Hermie Sadler clashed. The green flew on lap six and Greg Biffle moved the #16 National Guard/Subway Ford past his Roush Racing team-mate, Ryan Newman's #12 ALLTEL Dodge in third with the next chase contender, Jeff Gordon's #24 Dupont Chevrolet, behind. But again the caution flew, as Robby Gordon, Jeff Burton, Bobby Hamilton Jr, Boris Said and Casey Mears all bounced off each other. All this aided Jimmie Johnson, second in the points at the start of the day but starting the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet from 39th.
On the lap 10 restart Gordon passed Busch for second. Jeff needed the five-point lead bonus but Biffle had been fast all weekend, and steadily drew away from the Dupont Chevy, 2.5 seconds clear by lap 25. Of the other title contenders, Dale Earnhardt Jr lay 11th, Mark Martin 16th, while Johnson was up to 22nd.
The caution was out again on lap 49 for debris, just in time for pit stops. Biffle was quickest out, while Busch leap-frogged Gordon, and a slowish stop for Johnson dropped him from 11th to 18th. The green flew on lap 53, with Biffle again drawing away from Busch and Gordon. Martin was also on the move, the #6 Viagra Ford up to eighth while Earnhardt's increasingly sliding #8 Budweiser Chevrolet slipped to 12th, Johnson rapidly moving past to hit the top 10 by lap 66.
Drama hit on lap 93 as Busch suffered a flat. As he reached pit road the wheel parted company, the Ford just avoiding the end of the pit wall, bringing out the yellow and thus staying on the lead lap. All the field pitted, Biffle leading Newman, Tony Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet and Gordon back to green on lap 98, Johnson seventh, Martin eighth, Earnhardt 10th and Busch restarting 28th.
Martin was quickly past Johnson as up front Stewart went by Newman and set off after Biffle. But no-one seemed able to live with the #16 Ford, the car continuing to pull away until his progress was arrested on lap 114 as Jeremy Mayfield's #19 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge punctured and found the wall. Everyone headed back to pit road, Newman and Elliott Sadler's #38 M&M's Ford quickest out ahead of Gordon, Johnson and Biffle while Busch's stop was a confused disaster, dropping the #97 back down to 25th. And to add a further twist, light rain now started to fall.
Gordon now feared he had a tyre going down and hit pit road, rejoining back with Busch as the green finally flew on lap 132. Biffle immediately went past Johnson to ensure the Chevy man couldn't earn his five bonus points, the #16 car soon also passing second-placed Sadler and retaking the lead on lap 147, just as the caution flew again, Mike Bliss backing the #0 Netzero Highspeed Chevrolet into the wall. This time several cars took fuel only, Stewart leading out Kevin Harvick's #29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, Bobby Labonte's #18 Interstate Batteries version and Biffle, while Busch and Gordon resumed 18th and 19th.
At the lap 152 restart Stewart got away while Harvick got nudged out of the way by the lap-down Kenseth, Biffle going by, as further back Earnhardt was held up by traffic and slipped back into a seriously tense battle which Gordon and Busch were in the middle of. Luckily the inevitable crash happened behind them, Elliot Sadler sliding into an impact with the pit wall.
Everyone stayed out this time and at the green on lap 161 Stewart led Biffle while Gordon passed Busch and two others, only for chaos to break out again, Kasey Kahne ending an excellent rookie season with a hard hit against the concrete while further back Earnhardt tapped Travis Kvapil into an even harder impact with both inside and outside walls. Cue caution number eight.