Nine months ago, it looked like Kyle Busch's season was over before it had even started. On the day before the 2015 Daytona 500, Busch crashed heavily in a support race accident and broke his right leg and left foot, putting him out of action for the first 11 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Although Busch returned sooner than expected in time to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, few gave the 30-year-old much chance of making the Chase championship play-offs after that. However a dazzling string of four wins in five summer races at Sonoma, Kentucky, Loudon and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis put him right back in line for a dream comeback and he duly made it into the final 16 for the play-offs. He might have been lucky to squeak through the elimination at the climax of the second round of the Chase at Talladega, but a solid run of all-top-five finishes at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix meant that he made it as one of the last four drivers still in contention for the title coming into Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway alongside Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale race results and final Sprint Cup Championship standings.

Three hours later, against stiff competition from the other three contenders, Busch had won the race - and with it the title. Not only was it his first Cup crown, it was also the first time that Toyota have powered the championship-winning driver to success since they entered the series in 2007. It's not quite a first for Joe Gibbs Racing however - they've been here before, with Bobby Labonte in 2000 and then Tony Stewart in 2002 and 2005. It's not even the first time that a Busch has been crowned champion, as Kyle's older brother Kurt took the title in 2004. But with Kyle matching his sibling's achievement, the Busch boys have become the only the second pair of brothers in NASCAR history to become Cup champions since Bobby and Terry Labonte.

"Not in a million years, I never would have dreamed this moment to finish this year. This is so unbelievable but so awesome at the same time," said Busch who clinched the title with his 34th victory in 390 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. "A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true and something that only happens every so often. I just can't believe with everything that happened this year and all the turmoil, all the things that I went through, that my wife went through and the people that are around me went through.

"It's really awesome, awesome, awesome," he continued. "It was so much fun. This is just a dream come true and my family, my wife, my son - to have him this year and to have everything we've gone through this year to be in this moment - I don't know what else to say, but this is so special."

After praising the contribution of his crew chief Adam Stevens who is himself in his first year of Cup competition after being promoted from JGR's Xfinity squad, Busch added that his seeming disaster at the start of the year may have ultimately proven the key to winning the Cup title.

"No doubt. I said back then, I'll say it again: the rehab of getting back, getting ready and focused, all that was the hardest part and the hardest thing I have ever gone through," he admitted. "I guess you're a lot tougher than you really realize whether it's physically and mentally, but I had to put everything I had into rehab and everything I had into being able to walk and to get through everything that I was going through.

"To put it all together and be here tonight, this wasn't that hard but I have one special driver in Tony Stewart come see me and he helped me through a lot of that stuff," he added. "It was certainly a lot of things that you learn and there's certainly a lot of things in life that I don't know that you'll ever fully understand and this year is certainly one of those for myself, but it's so great to be in this spot right now and to count the blessings that we have. I can't say enough and thank the good Lord above."

The big concern in the week leading up to to the season finale had been about another matter that is ultimately in the hands of the gods, namely the weather. Early forecasts had suggested the weekend might prove a complete washout, but fortunately the outlook improved considerably as the week went on so that in the end there were just showers on Sunday morning that meant the start of the Ford EcoBoost 400 was pushed back by over an hour and a half as the Air Titans got to work. In the meantime the tension among those waiting on pit road grew exponentially - as did the throng around the #24 car, with the attention on Jeff Gordon's final race before retirement reaching such proportions that even the small matter of deciding the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup championship became almost secondary. Among the dozens of people on hand to wish Gordon well were Formula One world champions Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton.

And then finally it was time to get the show on the road, and the cars streamed off pit road and got to work. Unfortunately for Gordon, the love he had felt on pit road during the build-up to the green flag soon swiftly dissipated when it came to the race itself, the #24 being stripped of its Hendrick Motorsports team mates one-by one over the first half of the race: Kasey Kahne crashed out on lap 41 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was tipped into the wall six laps later by Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer in the last outing for the MWR squad, with Casey Mears, Aric Almirola, Sam Hornish Jr. and David Ragan also all caught up in the incident.

To cap Hendrick's woes, Jimmie Johnson was penalised and sent to the back on lap 50 after video footage appeared to show a crew member illegally adjusting side body panels to give the #48 added aerodynamic advantage. Left with no team mates on hand to help him out, Gordon then suffered from deteriorating handling for much of the rest of the race, and while he was able to continue running in the top 12 it was clear he didn't have the pace to beat his fellow remaining Chase contenders and win his fifth title on his final competitive appearance: there would be no fairy tale ending to one of the greatest careers in the history of NASCAR.

At the front, the lead was proving to be something of a poisoned chalice and difficult to hold on to for very long. Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin led the field to the green flag but was beaten into turn 2 by Penske's Joey Logano. It was soon clear than Hamlin had even bigger issues as smoke and fluid poured from the back of the #11, triggering the first caution of the day on lap 14 and sending Hamlin to the garage for repairs that put him three laps down. His team mate Kyle Bush surged past Logano to the front at the restart, but he wasn't able to repeat the feat after the scheduled competition caution on lap 40 and this time it was Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick who went to the front in his pursuit of a second consecutive Cup championship.

An extended green flag stint lasting 99 laps meant the running order finally settled down, Harvick leading from Busch for the first half but then suffering a slow pit stop which allowed Logano to go back to the front, Busch once again settling into second which crucially meant that he was now the first of the four Championship contenders - which was all he needed to win the title.

Logano picked up the lead again following a second round of green flag pit stops, but there was trouble for the fourth title contender when hot lugnuts on Martin Truex Jr.'s car sparked a flash fire as the #78 was being refuelled on lap 138. It did no harm to the crew or car but did mean that Truex was short on fuel, so he was exceptionally relieved by a debris caution shortly after that meant everyone could pit under more orderly circumstances and allowed Truex to top up with the fuel he had missed out on first time around, keeping him in the game for now. Even so, it was clear that Truex like Gordon simply didn't have the pace to win the day. Not even a Hail Mary gamble of making a two-tyre stop under caution for fluid on the track on lap 168 helped: while it put Truex at the front for the restart, the fresher rubber of the rest of the leaders meant he quickly dropped away again.

Barring any accidents for Busch and Harvick in the final 100 laps, the 2015 championship was now down to a two horse race. The question of who would win the race itself was a different matter, with Penske's Brad Keselowski the first driver to get around Truex at the restart and pick up the lead with Busch following through in second closely pursued by Harvick. Keselowski soon had a big lead of over a second over the field, but crucially Busch had the same sort of margin in hand over Harvick, who in the meantime was experimenting with working the high line in an attempt to put rubber down and prepare it for a move on the #18 late in the race - if he got the chance.

As the laps ticked down it was soon becoming clear that without a caution, that chance simply wasn't coming. Even though he had been passed for second place by Ganassi's Kyle Larson, Busch's lead over Harvick had now stretched out to over eight seconds following the final scheduled round of pit stops which meant the race wouldn't end up becoming a fuel conservation damp squib. The last thing that Busch wanted to see now were any yellow flags, but just when it appeared that the race might go the full distance there was indeed one final caution of the season, seemingly for debris consisting of a discarded drinks bottle lying off the racing line on the apron.

Remembering the lessons learned from Truex's earlier gambit, no one was willing to be caught out on old tyres for the restart and so there was one final visit to pit road. Although Harvick had the quicker stop he still couldn't beat Busch in the race off pit road, which was won overall by Keselowski who led the field to the green flag for the final time in 2015. Keselowski's choice of starting at the head of the inside line provided crucial as it opened the way for Busch to go into maximum attack and take the lead while Harvick had more to navigate his way around in order to pick up the pursuit.

"I knew it was time to go," said Busch. "I don't know why Brad chose to the bottom, but he gave me the top and I thought, 'This is interesting.' It did put Harvick behind me so I knew I just had to protect whatever Harvick tried to do if he was going to shoot the middle or shoot the gap or whatever it was going to be.

"I think I just got a really good restart and then just got going. I don't know if Brad spun his tyres or what. We got to turns one and two and we were pretty even, I just looked into four and gave it everything I had those last seven or eight laps."

It was soon clear that the #4 simply didn't have the edge it needed to reel Busch back in. The effort to develop the high line hadn't borne fruit and now the pace simply wasn't there when it was most needed. By the time the final seven lap sprint was completed and the chequered flag was on display at the finish line, Busch had pulled out a second and a half over Harvick with Keselowski maintaining third ahead of Logano and Larson. Jeff Gordon closed his account in sixth place after an astonishing 797 consecutive race starts, with JGR's Matt Kenseth and SHR's Kurt Busch rounding out the top eight. Comeback kids Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin crossed the line in ninth and tenth places after their early setbacks, Hamlin having benefited from the rapid-fire early series of cautions to gain three free passes back onto the lead lap. Truex meanwhile finished the day in an entirely creditable 12th place behind JGR's Carl Edwards, having given it his spirited all.

"We were just struggling all night, to be honest with you," said outgoing champion Kevin Harvick, who missed out on retaining his title despite a strong run to second and 46 laps led on the day. "We had a lot of trouble getting up off the corner and putting the power down. And the longer the run went, the looser that we would get up off the corner.

"It's been a great couple of years and I'm looking forward to next year. So, it's fun to be able to run like this. You always want to win, but I've learned not to get greedy. After last year, I felt like we had everything go our way way and tonight, it didn't go our way. But, just congratulations to the #18 team and everything they did and all of our guys; they've done a great job all year."

"We led a lot of laps," said third-place man Keselowski, who led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday. "The last four races we have run pretty strong, maybe not quite as strong as Phoenix as we wanted but three of the four races we were really strong and we just didn't have enough to close it at the end. I was really proud of my team tonight, really happy with what they were able to give me and we were able to take a run at it, we just didn't quite have enough at the end on that final restart to hold those guys off."

"Unfortunately, we didn't win and that's what we wanted to do," said Keselowski's team mate Logano who finished right behind him in fourth. "We had a fast Shell/Pennzoil Ford that led a lot of laps, so I'm proud of the laps we led. We had a few good runs and made an adjustment that just took it out of the track and by the time we got it back we lost too much track position. We had a bad pit stop under green and lost more there, so it was too little, too late. We couldn't redeem ourselves after a couple mistakes tonight."

"It was a big deal for us and for our team, for our owner, and for me personally to get this car this far and to have a chance to come in and battle for this championship," said Truex. "It was a big deal for us and I wish we could have performed better today. We struggled all weekend with this car and it definitely wasn't for a lack of effort. The guys put a ton of effort into this car and really all weekend we just kept throwing stuff at it and we just could never get it where we needed it. I am not sure what we were missing, but we were missing something. Proud of my guys for the effort and proud of my pit crew as well but we just didn't have the car when we needed it. Little disappointed, but proud of our season."

Over in victory lane, Kyle Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing team were celebrating their triumph - not just winning Busch's first title, but also doing it in style by winning the race itself which surely should put paid to any accusations that Busch was only able to clinch the championship because of the new format rules that NASCAR has brought in for the Chase. And just as you would expect from one of the true gentlemen and class acts of the sport, one of the first people to congratulate Busch on his success was Jeff Gordon, very much the other man of the moment on what had been in so many ways a historic and memorable day of motor racing.

"Congratulations to Kyle Busch," said Gordon. "What a great driver. What a great champion. And with all he's been through this year, nobody is more deserving than him.

"I had such a blast knowing that we had a good race car and could battle with these guys. Me and Martin had a heck of a battle there; but unfortunately it wasn't for the championship."

Gordon shared an emotional moment on pit lane after the race with his long-time team owner Rick Hendrick, whom he credited for a mutually outstanding association over the years. "To drive for one of the best car owners, if not the best, and drive the best race cars and work with the best people and that's why I have the wins and championships that I have and why we did what we did here today in the final race battling for a championship.

"[My wife] Ingrid, she goes through so much all the ups and downs and what goes along with this sport. We both said going into this race what an amazing experience this has been this year, the last nine years of our lives together and this day, surrounded by friends and family and the people that matter most and work hard on this race team and all the love I've gotten from the fans and everybody in this sport, there's nothing better than that."

Gordon won't be back on track next year - he'll be safely tucked up in the commentary booth instead - but Busch, Harvick, Keselowski, Logano et al will. And in fact its only 90 days until the Daytona 500 kicks off the all-new 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in February.

See you then!

Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale race results and final Sprint Cup Championship standings.

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