Jeff Gordon, right, talks to crew members after practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Terry Renna
November 22, 2015

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) The latest from Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of NASCAR's season finale (all times EST):

7:54 p.m.

Kyle Busch has won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Busch started the season in a hospital bed in Daytona Beach and ended it with a trip to the championship stage in Homestead.

The 30-year-old Busch beat fellow title contenders Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. to the checkered flag Sunday. Harvick was the defending series champion. Gordon, who is retiring, was the overwhelming sentimental favorite. Truex was the underdog driving for the small team.

Busch bested them all and joined his older brother, Kurt, as a champion. Kurt won the title in 2004.

Busch, who missed the first 11 races because of a broken right leg and left foot, edged Brad Keselowski on the final restart with seven laps to go in the 400-mile race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Harvick finished second, with Gordon sixth and Truex 12th.

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7 p.m.

It's looking grim for Jeff Gordon's fairytale ending.

Gordon continues to struggle with the handling on his No. 24 Chevrolet and is running ninth with 80 laps to go. He's well back of fellow championship contenders Kyle Busch (second) and Kevin Harvick (third). Martin Truex Jr., who gambled by taking two tires during his last pit stop, had faded from first to 12th.

Brad Keselowski is leading.

Gordon is retiring after this race and is hoping to go out on top with a fifth championship.

But he needs help now as Busch and Harvick pull away.

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6:30 p.m.

Joey Logano is out front, no surprise given he's consistently had one of the best cars in the Chase.

Logano passed championship contenders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and was out front when the 400-mile race reached the halfway point. Busch was second and Harvick fourth.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon were well back, with Truex in 10th and Gordon battling handling issues in 11th.

The 1.5-mile track surely will change as it cools off at night under the lights, making in-race adjustments key down the stretch.

Denny Hamlin was among the race's biggest movers. Hamlin lost three laps when his car caught fire and had to go to the garage early in the race. He returned and carved his way into the top 10.

Logano winning surely would spark debate about whether he should have been competing for the title in the finale. Logano was dominating at Martinsville earlier this month when Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked him late in the race. Logano was eliminated from the Chase two weeks later.

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5:45 p.m.

Clint Bowyer's final race with Michael Waltrip Racing ended earlier than expected.

Bowyer triggered a multi-car wreck on Lap 47 that took out Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others. Bowyer, starting MWR's final race before the team folds, shot straight up the track and got into Ty Dillon. Earnhardt spun and took out Aric Almirola and Casey Mears.

''I don't know what the hell happened,'' Bowyer said. ''I was kind of optimistic about the race.''

MWR, which still has David Ragan in the race, suffered a multitude of problems in nine full seasons. The team was slapped with penalties for infractions ranging from a jet fuel to race manipulation to Chase infractions.

''You hate to end this way,'' Bowyer said. ''I wanted to end on a strong note for MWR.''

Denny Hamlin, who lost three laps when his car caught fire and had to go to the garage, returned to the lead lap.

Jeff Gordon, who led earlier in the race, dropped from third to eighth on a restart.

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5:30 p.m.

Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin was hoping to win Jeff Gordon's final race. He ended up being the first to the garage.

Hamlin's car caught fire and started smoking on Lap 14. He ended up on pit road and then in garage before returning to the track three laps down.

Hamlin's issues have to worry Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, one of the four championship contenders.

Gordon, meanwhile, took the lead during a restart on Lap 35. Defending series champion Kevin Harvick was second, with Busch fourth and Martin Truex Jr. seventh.

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5 p.m.

The season finale, best known as four-time champion Jeff Gordon's final ride, has started after a rain delay of 1 hour, 36 minutes.

The race was initially scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m., but thunderstorms made that impossible.

The sun is out, the track is dry and the championship is on. Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are the four remaining title contenders. The first one to the finish line wins the championship.

NBC plans to show as much of the 400-mile race as possible, but has a commitment to switch to an NFL game between Cincinnati and Arizona at 7 p.m. So NBC executives are surely hoping for a fast race. But the event took more than three hours in 2014.

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4:15 p.m.

It's no longer raining, drivers are waiting by their cars and the start of the season finale is near.

It's unclear when the green flag will fly since the 1.5-mile track is still being dried.

But the sun is out in Homestead and everything looks good for the 400-mile race - at least for now.

Thunderstorms are still expected throughout the afternoon, but NASCAR seems confident it can complete the finale Sunday.

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3:45 p.m.

NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton is warning teams not to interfere with the championship race.

Helton sent his edict during the pre-race drivers' meeting. It's been made before during high-stakes events, and NASCAR was livid earlier this month when Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano during a playoff race.

Kenseth was suspended two races for an action that ultimately knocked Logano out of the Chase.

''Drivers and crew chiefs, crew members, spotters, everybody let today's race play out on its natural course,'' Helton told a packed audience. ''No one needs to interfere with the natural unfolding of this event. This is our last opportunity, it's a great opportunity for four drivers and there's 39 others that are participating in this race.

''Crew chiefs, pass this on to your spotters and drivers: Be sure this day concludes on a high note with no interference of a naturally progressed race.''

Helton then thanked the participants for the dedication to NASCAR and the sacrifices they make during a season that stretches over 11 months of weekly travel.

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3:15 p.m.

The season finale is delayed because of rain.

The race had been scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m., but a downpour soaked the track, delayed driver introductions and sent the Air Titan dryers into action.

The forecast calls for thunderstorms throughout the afternoon. So it's unclear when the race will start, let alone finish.

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3 p.m.

Television coverage will last on NBC until 7 p.m.

With the race now being delayed, NBC is scheduled to shift to NFL coverage for the Cincinnati-Arizona game. If the race runs late, coverage will conclude on NBCSN.

''If the finish were to bleed a little bit after 7, 15 or 20 minutes, we would stay with the race and the crowning of the champion,'' NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus told The Associated Press on Sunday. ''Other than that, we will move the race over.''

NBC Sports paid $4.4 billion for its rights over a 10-year deal and the first year has seen coverage plagued by weather woes. Counting NBC's debut in July at Daytona, eight races have been impacted by weather.

NBC later said there are ''too many variables in play right now'' to know when the race would air Monday, if necessary.

Lazarus said ratings for races on NBCSN - while down compared to those on NBC - boosted the network to its highest third-quarter ratings in network history.

Lazarus said excitement for the Chase and the ratings would have been heightened had weather not meant late-night endings and or mid-race shifts to NBCSN. He said he'd like to see a similar Chase format in the Truck and Xfinity Series.

''We want NASCAR to continue to refine the Chase and the competition,'' he said. ''We want them to continue to get people to understand the elimination, the brackets.''

He wants the back end of the Chase schedule on NBC next season.

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2:15 p.m.

Driver introductions are on hold because of rain.

It's not a complete downpour, but it's raining hard enough that officials decided to postpone the introductions. Delaying the start of the race could be the next step.

The green flag is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

Weather forecasts have been gloomy all weekend, but the Truck Series season finale and the Xfinity Series season finale started and finished without any delays Friday and Saturday, respectively.

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1:45 p.m.

Jeff Gordon is getting lots of love before his final race, maybe even more than expected.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne as well as fellow drivers Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson are wearing Gordon tribute hats. Patrick's is old-school ''rainbow warriors'' colors. Joey Logano posted a picture Sunday of him and Gordon on Facebook and wrote, ''You were my idol growing up. Never did I think I'd race against you for wins. Congrats on a great career Jeff Gordon.''

NASCAR presented Gordon with a tribute video during the pre-race drivers' meeting and then everyone in the room gave him a standing ovation.

''Jeff, congratulations on an outstanding career. We thank you for all you've done for NASCAR and will do,'' NASCAR President Mike Helton said. ''You're a true champion and a top-shelf guy.''

Fans lined a red carpet leading to the meeting and showered Gordon with praise. Gordon responded by high-fiving hundreds of them.

Gordon had presents for his colleagues, too.

Gordon gave each driver in the finale field an inscribed, carbon-fiber box to commemorate his last race. Gordon recalled Richard Petty doing something similar in the 1992 season finale in Atlanta. Petty gave each driver in that race a ''Petty blue'' money clip.

''Something I've always cherished,'' Gordon tweeted along with a picture of the clip.

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1:15 p.m.

Tim McGraw is ready to trade his cowboy hat for a race helmet.

''The big news is: I'm driving today,'' McGraw joked.

McGraw, a noted car enthusiast, is settling for taking the mic as the headline act for a pre-race concert at NASCAR's season finale.

Before heading to the stage, McGraw attended the drivers' meeting and sought out four-time champion Jeff Gordon to shake his hand. Gordon is retiring after the finale.

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12:45 p.m.

Count No. 42 among those pulling for No. 24 in NASCAR's season finale.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, expressed support for four-time champion Jeff Gordon on his Twitter page.

''I'm excited to watch (at)JeffGordonWeb's last thrilling ride tomorrow. He's a great friend to me and to the (at)ClintonFdn. Best of luck (hash)Team24!'' Clinton posted.

Gordon is one of four drivers remaining in contention for the title. Kyle Busch, defending series champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. also will race for the championship Sunday.

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, who knows a thing or two about championship drives, also has a rooting interest in the finale. Elway, the general manager and executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos, wished Truex luck.

Truex's Furniture Row Racing team is based in Denver.

''All the best to our hometown (at)FR78Racing team, Driver (at)MartinTruex-Jr & Owner Barney Visser w/their championship race tomorrow!!'' Elway tweeted.

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12:15 p.m.

Rain is threatening the start of NASCAR's season finale.

The track is dry for now, but dark clouds loom and forecasts call for afternoon thundershowers. The green flag is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

NASCAR officials say they won't start the race unless they believe they can finish it. They also have no plans to alter their current race rules, meaning the finale could be deemed official any time after the halfway point in the 400-mile race.

Last week's race in Phoenix was shortened by 93 laps because of storms.

But would NASCAR really end its championship event early?

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AP Sports Writers Jenna Fryer and Dan Gelston contributed to this report.

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