RELATED: Drivers, crew chiefs on the move One day after the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season ended, the first official move of the offseason came down courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The team announced that Chad Johnston has been named crew chief for Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Target team. Johnston will assume the role effective immediately to begin preparation for the 2016 season, replacing Chris Heroy. Heroy had been Larson's crew chief for his first two years at NASCAR's highest level. "I'm excited to get to work with Chad and to start doing what needs to be done to get the team to Victory Lane next year," Larson said in a team release. "As a team, I think we are very close and the addition of Chad should help move our program forward for many years to come. Lastly, I would also like to thank Chris for all he did to help me grow in my first two seasons in the Cup series." Johnston joins the No. 42 team from Stewart-Haas Racing , where he has been the crew chief for Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Chevrolet since the 2014 season. Johnston also served as crew chief for Martin Truex, Jr. and the No. 56 at Michael Waltrip Racing from 2011-2013. Johnston has one career Sprint Cup race win as a crew chief (2013, Sonoma ) and helped guide Truex Jr. into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup during the 2012 season. The announcement from CGR means Stewart will have a new crew chief in his final Sprint Cup Series season in 2016. Johnston has also worked in NASCAR as a race engineer at Morgan-Dollar Motorsports, Evernham Motorsports, and JTG Daugherty Racing before serving as a crew chief. He graduated from Indiana State University with a major in mechanical engineering, and briefly worked in the aerospace industry before his passion for motorsports brought him to NASCAR and the Camping World Truck Series in 2004. "I am very excited for the opportunity to be joining Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and the opportunity to work with Kyle Larson ," Johnston said in a team release. "The organization has a great reputation in numerous forms of racing, and I'm looking forward to adding to that reputation in NASCAR. Kyle is certainly a unique talent, and I'm eager to get to work with him and the team as we look to build a foundation of success." Larson will begin his third full-time Sprint Cup season in 2016. The 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year is coming off of a season that featured two top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. In 75 career Cup starts he has accumulated one Coors Light Pole Award, 10 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes.
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Navigating through negative comments from detractors on social media is often a tough road. For Samantha Busch, criticism has been a much more personal topic of late, one that brings emotional timbres to her voice. Her husband, Kyle Busch , hoisted the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy for the first time Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway , capping a stirring comeback season that opened with multiple severe leg injuries in a harrowing crash during the NASCAR XFINITY Series opener at Daytona International Speedway . Busch missed the first 11 races of the year as he recovered, returning to competition in mid-May with an exemption from NASCAR officials that kept him eligible for the title. When that eligibility eventually resulted in his first premier-series championship, online naysayers renewed their scrutiny of a decision and a playoff format that kept Busch's dreams intact. For Samantha Busch, that criticism hit home. "The waiver is very emotional," she said Monday night, moments after accepting accolades for her husband's championship-winning team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' season-ending awards banquet. "First of all, it wasn't just there for Kyle . It's been used for other drivers. It's been used for Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and I believe Kyle Larson , so it's not like something that was just invented for Kyle and this injury. So that's the first thing that gets me a little emotional. "But secondly, I think people just think, 'Oh, he got to take 11 weeks off and so he's more refreshed than other drivers.' Absolutely wrong. He was sitting there trying to learn how to bend his toes, how to move his foot, how to stand up out of bed. It was not a walk in the park for him, it was not a vacation, and it was probably the hardest thing he's ever done in his life, and not only did he do it with such determination and passion, but he came back so much earlier than anyone expected." Samantha Busch recounted the more difficult moments of her husband's rehabilitation -- the falls, the doubts, and the struggle of merely learning to walk again. "People don't see what we went through," Busch said. "They don't know every hour. They don't understand how hard he works and I think that's why I get a little bit more emotional about it."
RELATED: Complete Miami race results " Final 2015 standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Kyle Larson took out a season of frustration on the NASCAR XFINITY Series field Saturday in the season finale, tracking down Austin Dillon in the closing laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway by slightly less than a second. Despite Larson's dominance in leading 118 of 200 laps, Chris Buescher ran a clean race, finishing 11th to clinch his first XFINITY Series title. Buescher came into the race needing to finish 13th or better to guarantee himself the championship. After winning a pair of XFINITY Series races last season, Larson , 23, had visions of qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year. Those hopes failed to materialize. He sits 20th in Sprint Cup points heading into Sunday's season finale (3 p.m. ET on NBC). And prior to Saturday, although managing three top-five finishes, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum had gone winless in 13 XFINITY starts. But Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet out of the Harry Scott Jr. shop was so strong on Saturday that by Lap 97, only three other cars were chasing him on the lead lap. Larson had opened a 6.7-second lead over early-race leader Kyle Busch (who led 62 of the first 79 laps from the Coors Light Pole) when the race's third caution flag waved on Lap 117. Busch's threat fizzled when he was penalized for having a loose tire in the pits, then crashed after contact with NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum Darrell Wallace Jr . on Lap 182. On the final restart, however, Larson slipped to fourth and had to recover with a late race charge to catch Dillon. Both Larson and Dillon, seeking the speed of the outside line at Homestead-Miami Speedway , brushed the wall in the final laps. "To win is really special, especially when you haven't won in over a year in a NASCAR national series," said Larson , admitting he wasn't sure he could catch Dillon, who led laps 180-195. "There's no other track that suits me like this track. I'm just really comfortable running up against the wall. I seem to always have good race cars when I come here. "We've been frustrated a number of times this year. Some races, we haven't had the speed we had last year. Also, we've had a lot of races where we were pretty fast, then had something happen to us in the last run of the races. It's just been a really inconsistent year." When it came time to celebrate, however, Larson drove directly to Victory Lane, respectfully leaving the burnout to the XFINITY Series champ. "This is championship week, so congratulations to Chris Buescher ," Larson said. "I wanted Chris to have his moment there." Buescher, who won races at Iowa and Dover this season, came into the race with a string of nine consecutive top-10 finishes, but played it safe throughout the day at HMS. Crew chief Scott Graves did make a pivotal call, electing to pit while other title contenders remained on the track for the final 21 laps. That put Buescher in position to claim the free pass, which he did moments later when Busch hit the wall. "We thought having fresh tires on it was going to put us in a better position," Graves said. "We knew if we could be in the 'Lucky Dog' situation … we were basically going to be on even ground (with our competitors). With the number of laps that was left, we felt that was going to be our best option." "Our Fastenal Mustang had good speed in it, but we just had to be careful out there," Buescher said. "It's unbelievable for us to be able to pull it off. I’m not a 'points' racer. I don't like it. But it was important (to finish) what we've been fighting for since February and Daytona." Chase Elliott , the defending series champion who is poised to take over the No. 24 Sprint Cup car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2016, finished eighth in the race and 15 points behind Buescher. Ty Dillon , seventh on Saturday, finished 18 points behind Buescher, and Regan Smith , ninth on Saturday, settled for fourth in points, 22 points back. "We had an up-and-down season," said Elliott, who won three XFINITY Series races in 2014 but lamented his ability to win just once this year (at Richmond). "They just outran us, fair and square. No reason to be upset about that. We just need to do a better job." Dillon recorded his 25th top-10 finish of the season but failed to win a race. He did finish in the top 10 in eight of his last nine races. Smith, runner-up to Elliott last season, ended the season with 13 consecutive top-10 finishes. While Buescher gave Roush Fenway Racing Owner Jack Roush his fifth XFINITY Series title, the owner's championship went to Team Penske 's No. 22 Ford for a third consecutive season. Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Alex Tagliani and Ryan Blaney -- who finished fifth behind Erik Jones (Toyota) and Brian Scott (Chevrolet) in the Ford EcoBoost 300 -- all made starts in the No. 22 this season.
RELATED: Gordon's final ride " NASCAR nation sends #24ever notes HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The front of the hat reads " Jeff Gordon 1993 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year." "I was a year old," Kyle Larson says, grinning. Larson , winner of Saturday's season-ending NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway , will start 23rd in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 , the Sprint Cup Series final race of 2015. He sported the vintage hat as he sat in the media center for his post-race winner's interview. Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ) is one of four drivers that will be battling for the series title, along with defending series champion Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ). Sunday's race will be the final start as a full-time competitor for Gordon, a four-time champion and winner of 93 points races. The 44-year-old began his racing career in and around Vallejo, Ca. Larson , 23, hails from Elk Grove, Calif., just south of Sacramento and less than two hours east of Vallejo. "I got a few vintage hats during the past off-season right before SpeedWeeks, and this was one of the hats that I picked up off eBay," Larson said. "I probably only got it for like $26 plus tax and shipping. It's his '93 rookie season hat." Larson , driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 42 Chevrolet, said breaking it out this weekend was a sign of respect for everything Gordon has accomplished during his 23-year career as full-time driver. MORE: Iconic career coming to glorious close "It's cool to pay a little bit of respect back to Jeff," he said. "It's also neat to say that I was able to win a race on his final weekend of racing. "I hope I can win it (Sunday). But yeah, everybody in the sport has looked up to him, and it's going to be sad to see him running his final laps … but man, it's going to be awesome if he can pull off that championship. "Quite a party in Miami, too, afterwards, I'm sure."
Kyle Larson wins the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway while Chris Buescher finishes 11th to earn his first NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship.
Kyle Larson passes Austin Dillon with four laps remaining to win the Ford EcoBoost 300.
RELATED: Full practice results Reaching a top speed of 169.470 mph in his No. 42 HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi Chevrolet, Kyle Larson topped the leaderboard early in Friday's final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The Sprint Cup Series regular is making his 14th and final XFINITY start of the season. Roush Fenway Racing 's Elliott Sadler -- who will drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr .-owned JR Motorsports next season -- nabbed the second spot on the charts, piloting his No. 1 Ford at 169.231 mph. Joe Gibbs Racing 's Erik Jones laid down a lap of 168.676 mph in the opening lap to earn the third-fastest spot. The Dillon brothers rounded out the top five, with Austin in the fourth spot (168.287 mph) and Ty in the fifth (167.780 mph). For the fastest 10 lap consecutive average speed, it was Kyle Busch leading the way at 163.597 mph. Larson was second, followed by Austin Dillon , Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola . Points leader and title contender Chris Buescher ranked 11th on the speed charts, his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford coming in at 165.873 mph. Reigning series champion -- and Buescher's primary competition for the title -- Chase Elliott was 16th-fastest (165.042 mph) in his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. The practice began later than anticipated, as track officials worked to dry the track from the rainfall that had halted Sprint Cup practice minutes before. Cars began rolling off the grid at 1:45 p.m. The XFINTY Series is back on track Saturday for Coors Light Pole qualifying (11:15 a.m. ET CNBC/Live Extra).
RELATED: Full race results " Race recap SHOP: Champion gear In a season fit for the silver screen, Kyle Busch completed his emotional comeback from a devastating season-opening injury to capture his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. Busch took home the 2015 championship by being the top finisher among the Championship 4 drivers, which also included Kevin Harvick , Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr ., in the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch led 41 laps on the day and the last seven of the 267-lap event for his first career postseason win as a member of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. "Rowdy" spent much of the race running in the top two and took the lead from Brad Keselowski for good shortly after the Lap 261 restart. Busch then distanced himself from Harvick, the series' 2014 champion, who finished as the runner-up in the race and final standings. Gordon finished sixth in his final race, while Truex finished 12th. "This is just so unbelievable, so amazing and means so much right here, right now and probably will for a long, long time to come," Busch said on the championship stage at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "The opportunity that the amount of people that have poured their life and soul into everything that Kyle Busch does and is about -- from M&M's to Toyota to Snickers and Twix and Skittles, Joe Gibbs (team owner) and his family and all of Joe Gibbs Racing , everyone that gave me such a fast race car here tonight to drive. 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." The title makes the Busch brothers -- Kurt won the 2004 championship -- the second pair of brothers in NASCAR to win premier series championships. The Labonte brothers also have accomplished that with Terry winning titles in 1984 and 1996 and Bobby winning in 2000. RELATED: See all the premier series champions The 2015 season started off in a frightening fashion for Busch. A crash in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway left him with a broken right leg and a broken left foot. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season before returning in the middle of May for the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Matt Crafton , David Ragan and Erik Jones each took turns behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing . NASCAR granted Busch a waiver to make the Chase provided he was able to win a race and crack the top 30 in points before the end of the 26-race regular season at Richmond International Raceway . It took Busch just over a month to find Victory Lane and he did so at Sonoma Raceway, holding off his brother. That sparked a stretch of four wins in five races for the 30-year-old, including three straight wins at Kentucky Speedway , New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway . He nearly pulled off a fourth straight win at Pocono Raceway but ran out of gas on the final lap. RELATED: See all the 2015 winners For the second half of the waiver requirement, Busch cracked the top 30 in points after the race at Watkins Glen International in August and secured his spot in the Chase after the Darlington race, which was the second-to-last race of the regular season. The Chase provided an early test for Busch as a wreck at New Hampshire and a 37th-place finish left him on the outside looking in of advancing to the Contender Round heading to Dover International Speedway . However, he was able to rally to advance with a runner-up finish at the "Monster Mile." Contact with Kyle Larson near the entrance of pit road at Charlotte in the Contender Round opener derailed a promising day for Busch and left him needing strong performances at Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway to make the Eliminator Round. Busch delivered at both, gaining the spots he needed late at Talladega, which was where he was involved in a wreck the previous year that took him out of the Chase. Busch was a model of consistency in the Eliminator Round with three top-five finishes to advance on points to the Championship 4. The title season was also a big one off the track for Busch as he and wife Samantha welcomed son Brexton in May, just days after Busch's return to competition. During Championship 4 Media Day, Busch and Joe Gibbs revealed that Busch had inked a contract extension days after the news of Mars extension as sponsor on the No. 18 Toyota was announced. The Sprint Cup championship is the first for crew chief Adam Stevens, who was in his first year as a pit boss in the Sprint Cup Series, and the fourth (and first since 2005) for Gibbs. It was also the first Sprint Cup championship for manufacturer Toyota. "We are extremely proud of Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing on winning the Sprint Cup Series driver's championship," said Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. "It's an incredible accomplishment for Kyle , to overcome the adversity he faced this year and come back with the focus and determination he has had to win races, qualify for the Chase and then earn the ultimate prize, his first Sprint Cup Series championship. "Winning this NASCAR championship has been a huge aspiration for Toyota since joining NASCAR in 2004. We are honored to finally be on this stage and join Kyle and Joe Gibbs for our first Sprint Cup Series title." Championship weekend was a banner one for the 30-year-old Busch. In addition to his Sprint Cup championship, Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship on Friday night and KBM won the owner's championship in that series.
RELATED: Complete results from Homestead " Updated standings SHOP: Champion's gear " Gordon gear HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch capped a most improbable comeback Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway , capturing the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship while winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 . Busch, 30, passed race leader Brad Keselowski on a final restart with seven laps remaining, then pulled away from fellow Chase for the Sprint Cup contender Kevin Harvick to score his fifth win of the season and secure his first premier series title. It was also the first Sprint Cup Series championship for automaker Toyota, which entered the series in 2007. "A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true," Busch said. "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 (Samantha) went through and the people that are around me went through. This championship is all for these guys, my wife, my family, everyone who has had to sacrifice so much to get me here to this place today, whether it was on my team right now, or on my teams in the past." "Adam Stevens (crew chief) prepared such a great race car. Adam Stevens is my hero. I love that guy." Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Jeff Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) advanced through this year's 16-team, 10-race Chase format to qualify for a shot at the title. RELATED: Busch wins first Cup Series championship Busch said he never doubted that he and his team could orchestrate such a stunning comeback. "Oh yeah, no doubt," he said. "The rehab ... getting ready and focused, all that was the hardest part and the hardest thing I have ever gone through. To put it all together and be here tonight, this wasn't that hard." Sidelined for the season's first 11 points races after suffering a broken right leg and fractures to his left foot in an XFINITY Series crash at Daytona International Speedway , Busch returned to win five times. Sunday's victory was the 34th of his career. Busch can thank debris on the race track for the race win. It was driver and team that won the championship, however. Seemingly on his way to a second-place finish that would have still secured the title, Busch shot past Keselowski ( Team Penske ) on a Lap 261 restart for the 18th and final lead change of the night. "I knew it was time to go," Busch said. "I don't know why Brad chose the bottom, but he gave me the top and I thought, 'This is interesting.'" The restart order put Harvick directly behind Busch, who said, "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 don't know if Brad spun his tires or what. We got to Turns 1 and 2 and we were pretty even; I just looked into (Turn) 4 and gave it everything I had those last seven or eight laps." Officially, it was Busch, Harvick and Keselowski finishing first through third, with Joey Logano and Kyle Larson rounding out the top five. "I don't really know if there was a right one or wrong one, to be honest," Keselowski, who led a race-high 86 laps, said of the lane choice call. "We just weren't fast enough and I don't think it would have mattered either way." Gordon ended his illustrious driving career with a sixth-place finish while Truex wound up 12th. ALL ACCESS: Gordon parks car for final time "His talent is so strong, and that team really found some things this year," Gordon, a four-time champion making his final start, said of Busch, adding that he's seen "a changed Kyle ." "When he came back, not only was he driven and just inspired by it, but you can tell he was racing smarter, with more patience, just being more deliberate. ... I think he showed it right away when he came back that there was a pretty good chance he was destined to win this championship." It wasn't a down-to-the wire battle for the championship or for the race until the final caution. With 67 laps remaining, Keselowski was easily out front while Busch enjoyed a lead of more than one second over Harvick for second place. Gordon, who had led earlier, ran ninth and Truex was just outside the top 10, running 12th. A fire on pit road and an ill-handling car stymied the efforts of Truex and his team for the first half of the race; a two-tire gamble during pit stop on Lap 168 put him out front. WATCH: Truex Jr. has 'a lot to build on for the future' But the lead was short-lived; Truex soon found himself free-falling through the field, eventually settling in just outside the top 10. Gordon made his way to the front for the first time following a Lap 36 restart, shooting past the soon-to-be champ for the lead and bringing the crowd in the grandstands to their feet. Harvick took charge moments later with a power move on a Lap 45 restart. A multi-car accident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Clint Bowyer and others erupted almost as soon as Harvick took control, bringing the yellow flag for the fourth time. RELATED: Harvick sets bittersweet NASCAR record The defending series champion was able to build as much as a 1.5-second lead over Busch and led 46 laps before a cycle of green-flag pit stops allowed Joey Logano to move to the top spot. Afterward, Harvick could only smile as he watched Busch celebrate on stage. "He broke his leg at Daytona, and to come back from everything that he came back from ... that's a great comeback story from where he was after Daytona," said Harvick. The race began 1 hour, 35 minutes late due to rain but ran uninterrupted by weather conditions following its 4:50 p.m. ET start.
Kyle Larson loses the lead after his left rear tire goes down with 24 laps to go in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.