"Let's just say that we're so relieved that the 2008 season has finally come to an end here tonight," said Busch, who only four years ago was here at this 1.5-mile South Florida speed plant celebrating the first series championship under the current "Chase" format. "We had a month's worth of problems out there in just this one race."
Busch started today's race from the 38th starting spot and never climbed any farther than 33rd in the running order due to a "super-tight" handling condition. Leader Carl Edwards was running such a torrid pace up front that he put Busch a lap down under the green on Lap 44.
The first round of green-flag pit stops began only four laps later. Busch hit pit road on Lap 50, hoping that air pressure adjustments on his four Goodyears and wedge tweaks would work to loosen the chassis.
After a "pass-through" penalty was assessed for violating the speed limit on entry during his stop, Busch came close to going a second lap down to the leader. He was actually shown as running 43rd and a full two laps down to Edwards on Lap 54, just as the stops were cycling around.
Busch caught the break he needed on Lap 69 when Aric Almirola spun entering Turn 1 to bring out the first caution flag of the race. That kept Busch running with the cars only a lap down and the adjustments made during the ensuing yellow flag pit stops had Busch's car the strongest it was during the entire race.
Busch and his pat Tryson-led team looked to have a car strong enough to utilize appropriate strategy and get his lost lap back. When the second caution flag of the race flew on Lap 140 for debris, the team started playing their cards trying to get back into the lead lap.
Going with right-side tires only on the Lap 141 pit stop, the 7.182-second visit to their pits looked to possibly have Busch headed toward their immediate goal of at least being in the spot to get the "Lucky Dog" free pass back onto the lead lap.. However, contact made with the No. 84 Toyota of Brian Vickers when he was exiting the pits put the team in a perplexing situation.
The rubbing between the two cars bent in the sheet metal on the left-front side of the car. Even after Kasey Kahne got a close-up view of the damage and judged that it was questionable about the clearance between the tire and sheet metal, the No. 2 team chose to stay out and chance it.
That decision would bite Busch only four laps later as the tire in question did go flat. Busch made contact with the outside wall before he could finally bring his Dodge Charger onto pit road.
Busch's problems brought out another caution and allowed his team to make appropriate repairs to remain three laps down to the leaders.
After losing third gear during the following restart, Busch was back up to 37th and only two laps down to leader Matt Kenseth when Reed Sorenson spun in Turn 2 to cause the sixth yellow flag period of the night.
After going up four rounds on the track bar during the pit stops under the caution, Busch was hoping to just finish the remaining laps and avoid posting another DNF in what has been a most difficult season for the team.
Only four laps after the Lap 184 restart, Busch had yet another flat and careened into the outside wall to bring out the seventh yellow flag of the race. The team was forced to spend a lengthy visit to pit road in order to repair the right-side damage to their car.
After returning to action, Busch radioed in that he had lost fourth gear, in effect relegating him to the garage area due to the transmission woes.
"We pitted and on pit exit, the 84 car rubbed us really bad and caused some damage to the left front," explained Busch, who has been fighting a severe sinus infection this week and was forced to visit the infield medical center last night to get intravenous fluids. "We ended up cutting down a tire and put it into the fence.
"We had another tire go flat and that sent us back into the wall for the second time," Busch added. "When we got back out there, fourth gear went out and we had no other option than to take it to the garage,
"Congratulations to Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus) on winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship," Busch said as his personal physician, Dr. Scott McNair, checked him out in the team's transporter after retiring from the competition. "They had a great year and are well-deserved champions."
Carl Edwards did all he could in trying to overcome Johnson's huge points lead here today, leading the most laps and winning the race with another fuel-conservation move that paid off at the end. Johnson was able to mount a charge to a 15th-place finish and he won his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship by a 69-point advantage over Edwards.
Kevin Harvick finished second in today's race, with Jamie McMurray third, Jeff Gordon fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. Kahne, Travis Kvapil, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out today's top-10 finishers. Ryan Newman, competing in his final race as Busch's teammate driving the No. 12 Alltel Dodge, was credited with a 21st-place finish.
Busch finished 18th in the final point standings. With 3,635 points, he trailed 13th-place David Ragan by 664 points. He finished 204 points behind 15th-place Truex and 100 points behind 17th-place Newman.
Johnson and the rest of the top-10 points finishers for 2008 (see standings below) will be taking to the stage at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Friday, Dec. 5, as the Sprint Cup Series enjoys its annual awards banquet. With only the top 10 drivers receiving "stage time," 11th-place Matt Kenseth and 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. were left out this time around.