Jimmie Johnson makes NASCAR history with 4 straight
“How ’bout some history?!” Jimmie Johnson shouted as the crossed the finish line at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
No, Johnson didn’t win Sunday’s Ford 400. Denny Hamlin did. But Johnson accomplished something far more significant than a victory in a single event. His fifth-place finish was more than good enough to clinch his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, breaking a tie with Cale Yarborough for most consecutive championships.
“History, boys,” Johnson continued. “No one ever—ever! I don’t know how to thank you guys. Thank you so much.”
Johnson’s title run also completed Hendrick Motorsports’ sweep of the top three positions in the final standings, the first time an organization has achieved that distinction. In winning his fourth Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Johnson finished 141 points ahead of Mark Martin, who entered Sunday’s race 108 points behind his teammate and finished 12th.
Jeff Gordon secured a third-place finish in the points with a sixth-place run.
All but lost in the hoopla surrounding Johnson’s record run was Hamlin’s fourth victory of the season and his second in the Chase. Surging into the lead after a restart on Lap 222 of 267, Hamlin crossed the stripe 2.632 seconds ahead of Jeff Burton, who posted his second straight runner-up finish and his fourth straight top 10.
Burton’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick ran third, and Kurt Busch locked up fourth in the Chase standings with a fourth-place finish.
Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger completed the top 10.
After Hamlin did a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, and the championship stage was rolled into position, Johnson did an elaborate burnout of his own that started near the entrance to pit road and continued down the front straightaway.
After the smoke settled, Johnson embraced the enormity of what he had just accomplished.
“The truth of it is, to do something that’s never been done in this sport—to love the sport like I do and respect it like I do—and the greats, Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon … to do something they’ve never done is so awesome. To win four championships in eight years, what this team has done … I don’t know where to start. It’s unbelievable.”
With his niece Alesha Gainey facing an emergency liver transplant in North Carolina, team owner Rick Hendrick wasn’t at Homestead to celebrate Johnson’s record and several others that accrued to the organization. Hendrick Motorsports won its ninth owners’ championship, tying Petty Enterprises for most all-time.
In addition, Hendrick won its aggregate 12th owners’ championship in NASCAR’s top three national series, a NASCAR best. Crew chief Chad Knaus extended his record number of consecutive Cup titles to four.
“Mr. H, buddy, we really wish you were here today,” Knaus radioed after the race.
Hamlin, who collected his eighth career victory, won from the 38th starting position in a No. 11 Toyota that improved as daylight turned to night, thanks to crew chief Mike Ford’s astute adjustments to the car.
Between the fireworks in the prerace ceremony and the champion’s burnout after the race, there were other pyrotechnics on the racetrack. Tony Stewart turned his No. 14 Chevrolet into Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 Chevy, after the two cars made contact shortly after a restart on Lap 113.
Montoya pounded the Turn 3 wall and lost 27 laps while his crew repaired the car in the garage. After returning to the track, Montoya spun Stewart off Turn 4, sending him into the inside retaining wall. Stewart recovered to finish 22nd, and Montoya came home 38th.
Notes: After the race, Joey Logano was named Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the Cup series. … Truex made his last start for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing before moving to Michael Waltrip Racing next season. … Jamie McMurray finished 18th in his last run for Roush Fenway Racing. He’ll drive for Earnhardt Ganassi next year.
* Denotes Rookie
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