USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck weighs in from Homestead on the wild finish in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. USA TODAY Sports
HOMESTEAD, Fla. â Now that NASCARâs season has ended and the smoke has started to clear, hereâs a closer look at each of the top five drivers:
1. Kyle Busch understands the role of the champion.
Given Busch has shown a tendency to have a sharp tongue and a blunt nature over the years, itâs fair to wonder how heâll serve as NASCARâs champion.
The good news is heâs already shown understanding of what exactly that role means, and perhaps representing the sport in a positive manner could cause the legions of boo birds to take a second look at him.
âI think how you are (as) the sport’s champion will change (the) perception of how people think of you,â Busch said. âI’m really optimistic and looking forward to being the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion next year and doing all the things that a champion is supposed to do, and maybe that’ll change some more things about me.
âItâs certainly been a whirlwind season this year, and I think there’s been a lot of change in myself and my family and my team, but I think there’s probably still more to go. Looking forward to that experience.â
2. Kevin Harvick had one of the greatest seasons in decades, yet itâs somehow fitting he finished second.
Despite having the fastest car every week, Harvick finished second far more often (13 times) than first (three). He became only the 10th Cup driver to have double-digit runner-up finishes in a single season, and the first since Bobby Allison in 1972.
Harvick led 2,294 laps this year, which was 863 more than the next-closest driver (Joey Logano). How big is that number? Only four drivers led more than 863 laps all season. And heâs now led more laps in his first two years at Stewart-Haas Racing than he did in his entire tenure at Richard Childress Racing.
The No. 4 never seemed to have the speed to win on Sunday, but Harvick finished second anyway. Like Busch, heâs one of the most talented drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a stock car â and is just now really beginning to show it.
3. Jeff Gordon will be remembered for his championships, wins and impact on the sport â not his last race.
Had the four-time champion closed out his career with a storybook ending, that could have been his signature moment. But while it would have been nice, a sixth-place finish in his final race had no negative impact on his legacy.
Most drivers stay well past their primes, but Gordon was competitive until the end. Even though his final championship came in 2001, he still finished in the top five of the season standings six times after that â including his last year.
Even though this was somewhat of an off-year for Gordon overall, he still had 21 top-10 finishes â his second-highest total in the last six years.
5. Carl Edwards achieved his highest points finish since losing the championship on a tiebreaker in 2011, but the 36-year-old likely hoped for a better overall first season at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Edwards saw how Matt Kenseth and Harvick blossomed after leaving their former teams and had hoped for the same. But his results were mostly in line with his final year at Roush Fenway Racing: The same number of wins (two), the same number of top-five finishes (seven) and one more top-10 (15 vs. 14). His average finish was 14th compared to 15th last year.
The good news for Edwards is thereâs still a high ceiling for success, and heâs one of the drivers who should excel in a lower downforce package. Next year should be even better.