Miss Sprint Cup Madison Martin wants you to vote for The NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award presented by Nationwide.
RELATED: Full race results " Final standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- To go fast, all Kyle Busch had to do was mash the gas pedal. To go faster, all he had to do was slow down. Had to slow down. No choice there. Busch "got in a fight" with an unprotected, concrete wall at Daytona before the season's first Sprint Cup Series race. He lost. Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway , he won. The road to the Sprint Cup title is a curious one. They say the 30-year-old Busch is a "changed" man -- actually, the word often used is "matured" -- and I hope that's only partly true. It's the competitive fire in Busch that pushes him to dance with a race car on the very edge. Occasionally, the results are disastrous; often, though, they are a thing of beauty. Busch didn't compete in all 36 points races this season, but for reasons out of his control . A broken right leg and a left foot that gave new meaning to the word "fractured" took care of that. For nearly 12 weeks, Busch idled. Idle is not a speed to which the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is accustomed. One doesn't win 154 races across three series by idling. A bed-ridden Busch had to sit and watch as three other drivers climbed into his No. 18 Toyota. It's been said that nothing hurts a racer more than seeing someone else in his car. Rehab was painful; sitting on the sidelines was agonizing. Potential wins were slipping by him on the television screen. When he finally did make it back to the track, no one knew what to expect, least of all Busch. Sure, he was confident. His crew chief, Adam Stevens, and car owner, Joe Gibbs, were confident. But no one was certain. No one knew if a broken leg and fractured foot were the only real injuries Busch suffered in Daytona several months earlier. Maybe the "want to" was still there, but the question was, could he? Could he still feel every nuance of the car as it rocketed around a race track? Could he push it to the very edge, find the sliver of an opening that existed only briefly, and charge his way through the field? Not only could Busch still do those things, but in some ways he did them better. Only six weeks after his return, Busch was back in the winner's circle, victorious at, of all places, Sonoma Raceway. In little more than a month's time, he won three consecutive races and four of five. Nearly as telling was his performance in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . The format, tweaked from time to time, has always dealt hefty penalties for miscues with little or no time to recover, and Busch has had his share. This time, he navigated the minefield that stretched from Chicago to Homestead with minimal damage. If Busch has changed, so has his approach, something he called a "just let everything be" tactic. It's a short phrase that speaks volumes about his confidence in himself and his team. Changed? Maybe. Maybe hitting a concrete wall and starting a family and sitting on the sidelines had an effect on him after all. Slowing down wasn't a part of the plan. But in the end, that's what it took. And Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is just fine with that.
The classic NASCAR film "Days of Thunder" was loosely based on the career of 13-time premier series victor Tim Richmond, who had earned the nickname "Hollywood." Given his comfort in the spotlight over the course of the past two decades, perhaps the nickname would also suit Jeff Gordon , who retired from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition after falling just short in his bid for a historic fifth title on Sunday. Born a California boy, it was clear from the start of his career that Gordon was cut from a different cloth than the good ol' boys who had ruled NASCAR throughout its storied history. He was polished. He was refined. He was -- eventually, once mustache met razor -- well-groomed. And people took notice. Before long there were endorsements, seemingly more Gordon memorabilia lining the shelves than shelves themselves and, oh yeah, four titles in his first nine seasons, solidifying a Hall of Fame resume before he even hit age 30. And Gordon's influence on the actual racing part of the sport will be everlasting. Take a look at the final Sprint Cup standings . There are only two drivers in the top 25 who originally hail from North Carolina ( Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Austin Dillon ), NASCAR's original talent pool hot bed. Many factors led to this, but Gordon's All-American appeal, charm and charisma helped pave the way -- even while playing the foil to Dale Earnhardt -- opening up NASCAR to a mainstream audience, flooding stands and couches in front of non-flat-screened TV sets with an audience that stretched from coast to coast, border to border. An audience that tuned in to see Gordon become the first -- and to date, only -- race car driver host one of America's most notable television programs, NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Jeff Gordon 's monologue from a 2003 episode of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "I asked (Gordon) recently, a while back, about what made you go on 'Saturday Night Live,' what made you want to do that," NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "Number 1, he said, 'Well, they asked me.' And I said, 'Well, OK.' But he said, 'Look, I felt comfortable doing a lot of things that were not mainstream for a NASCAR driver.' "And he was smart about it. He knew that that could separate him from other drivers and he was good at it." Gordon's SNL appearance on Jan. 11, 2003, was a tipping point of bringing NASCAR to the masses, an unquestionable testament to the Hendrick Motorsports driver's popularity and wide-ranging allure. Gordon got to "beat up" a fake Gary Busey while hosting "SNL." It's the crowning achievement in Gordon's on-screen roles, a list that includes 27 appearances on "Live!" (with Regis/Kathie Lee/Kelly/Michael), including 11 guest hosting gigs. He's also appeared in "Spin City", "Arli$$", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", " The Drew Carey Show", "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", "Taxi", "Herbie Fully Loaded", "Sesame Street", "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", "Top Gear", " The Simpsons", "Jeopardy" and even "Cars 2" -- as the appropriately named character "Jeff Gorvette." That curriculum vitae alone -- which is pared down; check out his entire IMDb page -- shows Gordon's star power across generations of fans and television watchers. Gordon also got to play a fighter pilot. Ultimately, with Gordon walking away on such a high note from the sport he's gotten so much out of, NASCAR has reaped the benefits of his contributions. Millions of NASCAR fans can thank Jeff Gordon for opening their eyes to the sport. "He's one of those guys, I always look back at drivers that take out a lot less than they put in," France said. "He's one of those guys that has put in a lot to grow the sport. And other drivers should think about that a little bit. Because he's really a model in that respect. "I have a lot of respect for Jeff Gordon ."
RELATED: Race results " 2015 final standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Team owner Joe Gibbs sees Daniel Suárez as a big part of the future -- not only for NASCAR but for his team. Part of the equation is about the 23-year-old’s talents as the driver who just earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Suárez moved up to fifth in the final series standings with his sixth-place effort in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . But a lot of it is about how Suárez got to that point, advancing through NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program to become a factor in both the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series this year. "It's exciting for our sport," Gibbs said. "I don't think I've been in any business meeting the last five years where (somebody) didn't say 'We've got to reach the Hispanic market.' It's a big deal for us to have Daniel on board. "It helps me from the standpoint that I want to be a good partner in every part of NASCAR. We've been heavily involved in the (Drive for) Diversity program with a number of different guys. We think it's good for our sport. I know it is. I think our sport belongs in every part of the market in America and I think this is a big step." Suárez is the first Mexican driver and second Drive for Diversity product to win Sunoco Rookie of the Year in one of NASCAR's national series. Although he didn't win an XFINITY race, he won three Coors Light Pole Awards, recorded 18 top-10 finishes and placed second to Joey Logano at Bristol Motor Speedway . "It's been a long journey so far, but a very fun one," Suárez says. "We had a goal early in the year to get the Rookie of the Year, be strong and try to contend for some wins. We didn't win, but we were close several times. We ran in the front. I don't think it was a surprise to see the ARRIS No. 18 in the front, which for me was something really good." Suárez, has been fast ever since arriving on the scene from Monterrey, Mexico, where he was accustomed to open-wheel racing and road courses, not ovals. He was Rookie of the Year in NASCAR’s Mexico Series in 2010. Advancing to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing, he placed third in the 2013 standings with nine top-10 finishes. But he's also had a lot to learn [[ from mastering the English language to mastering how to handle NASCAR's race cars and tracks. "These cars are different," he says. "They are so aero-dependent and to move around the race track, '’m not used to that. When I was racing in Mexico, you used to start in one line and I was used to staying in that lane. So, all this is new to me." Saturday's race was a tribute to how far Suárez has come. After qualifying on the front row, he dropped all the way to 16th, a lap down, after his team was penalized for a loose tire in the pits. Clawing his way back into contention, he was one of only 10 finishers on the lead lap. His sixth-place finish enabled him to bump veteran Elliott Sadler (13th) from the fifth and final seat at Monday night's XFINITY championship banquet. Still, Suárez, who gained additional experience by driving 13 races for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, knows he has a long way to go. "There is a huge difference between racing fast, racing in the front and winning a race," he says. "And this is one of the steps I have to make for next year. This was one of my goals for this year. I didn’t get that one. So in the offseason I am looking forward to working as hard as possible with my team to take that next step and win races." As for a chance to drive in the Sprint Cup Series, Suárez believes that will come in due time. "I feel if I'm in the right place and with the right people to make that step at the right time," he said, "But for now we need to focus on what we're doing right now." His owner will be watching closely. "We are really proud of Daniel," Gibbs said. "He has done a fantastic job both on and off the track and I know ARRIS and Toyota are extremely excited to have him earn this honor. "He has been consistent throughout the year but also showed improvement each week and that really showed up as he returned to tracks for a second time. He has put a lot into this and I'm just thrilled for him and his family, the team, and everyone that supports him, both here and back in Mexico.
After an entire season of receiving gifts, Jeff Gordon flips the script by presenting his long time PR representative, Jon Edwards, with the Martinsville checkered flag signed by many of his peers in the garage.
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