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Hamlin wins NASCAR finale, Johnson wins title again

by Pete McCole
Sunday, November 17, 2013

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Jimmie Johnson 6-Time NASCAR Champion

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season came to a close Sunday night as Denny Hamlin hoisted the winners trophy and Jimmie Johnson was crowned a the Sprint Cup Champion for the sixth time in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hamlin passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with 25 laps to go and pulled away to beat out championship contender Matt Kenseth by nearly a full second to score his 23rd-career Sprint Cup victory and his first since September of 2012 at Louden, ending a 43-race winless streak.

Earnhardt, Jr. finished third, followed by Martin Truex, Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Johnson, having to finish 23rd or better to clinch the title, brought his no. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS home in ninth place, taking the championship by 19 points over Kenseth in the final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, leaving him just one title shy of tying the mark of seven championships shared by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Jimmie Johnson battles Kyle Busch
“I am at a loss for words, but I am so proud, and so thankful for this opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Johnson.  “Thankful that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave me this opportunity back in 2002. This sport is about people and our people at Hendrick Motorsports, especially on this 48 car, rose up and got the job done. I am so thankful to be able to drive for this race team, and so honored and so excited to have a six-pack.

“I feel like these five years were a blur, and things happened so fast. It's not that I didn't enjoy it or appreciate it or didn't respect what happened. It just went by so fast, it seems like. I'm really going to slow things down here and enjoy it. This is so, so sweet.”

For Hamlin, Sunday’s win marked one of the few bright spots in his 2013 season, which started out with high hopes after finishing as a strong championship contender the last three seasons.

But, after suffering a back injury following a crash at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in March, Hamlin was forced to sit out the next four races, virtually wiping out any chance of making the Chase field. He finishes the season 23rd in points, his worst points finish since making just seven starts in 2005.

“Yeah, it's been a horrible year.  I was going to be counting down the laps,” said Hamlin. “I knew on my first run right away that we were going to have a shot.  If the strategy didn't go our way, we fell back, but when we were able to drive back up to the front, I knew (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) gave me a car capable of winning.

“As bad as the year is, we can take a little solace in this finish.  Spend these next two months regrouping, getting our team back in order.  I feel like there's no reason why we can't shoot out of the gates in '14 like we did in 2010 after winning here in 2009.”

At the start of the race, all eyes were on the championship battle, as Johnson, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick – still mathematically in the title hunt – started in the top ten with Kenseth starting on the pole.

Starting in seventh place in the 267-lap event, Johnson ran a steady race, running in the top ten most of night much to the chagrin of Kenseth, who could never seem to make up any ground in the point with Johnson running near the front.

Johnson’s only real scare came on a restart with 73 laps to go, when teammate Jeff Gordon spun his tires while restarting second, wading up the field behind him and causing Johnson to fall back as far as 21st in the field with minor damage to his left-front fender.

Johnson and his crew didn’t panic, pitted on the next caution flag to repair the damage, and continued to climb back through the field and back into the top 10 with 40 laps to go.

Besides the championship battle, the only other real drama of the night came on lap 232, when Paul Menard came to pit road with the right rear of his Chevrolet on fire.

As his crew came around to change tires and deal with the fire, the right rear tire exploded from the searing heat, enveloping the rear of the car in flames. Fire crews quickly doused the flames, and there were no injuries, although the no. 27 car was done for the night.

Up front, Johnson rallied back into the top ten while Kenseth powered past Earnhardt, Jr. to take second, but with Johnson running strong there was no way to make up any more ground, leaving the former 2003 champion as a championship runner-up for the second time in his career.

“It was a really fun night,” said Kenseth. “Obviously both of us sitting here wanted to come up with a win.  If Jimmie would have got a flat or something that would have been okay there at the end, too.

“Jimmie (Johnson) and that team are obviously unbelievable.  Never seen anything like this in the sport and probably will never see anything like it again.  It's amazing with as tight as the rules are, multi-car teams, information sharing, and all that stuff.  It's amazing they can figure out how to do that year after year.”

Kevin Harvick finished tenth in the race and ended the year third in the point standings for the third time in four years. Kyle Busch ended the year fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished the night in 22nd and clinched the rookie of the year honors.

QUOTES

JIMMIE JOHNSON
YOU ARE THE 2013 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES CHAMPION, CONGRATULATIONS (CROWD CHEERS WILDLY): "(Jimmie turns toward crowd, waves and smiles) Thank you! I hear you up there, thank you! Oh wow...I don't even know where to start. I am at a loss for words, but I am so proud, and so thankful for this opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m thankful that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave me this opportunity back in 2002. Thankful that Lowe's came on board. I want to say hi to all the employee-owners that are watching; everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports in all departments. This sport is about people, and our people at Hendrick Motorsports, especially on this 48 car rose up and got the job done. I am so thankful to be able to drive for this race team, and so honored and so excited to have a six-pack."

HOW MUCH OF A HOLD YOUR BREATH MOMENT DID YOU HAVE WHEN YOU ENDED UP WITH THE WRINKLED FENDER WITH 74 LAPS TO GO AND SUDDENLY YOU HAD CONTACT WITH THE NO. 20 (MATT KENSETH)? "Yes, I had contact from behind that pushed me up into the 20 and both of us were out of control and sliding toward the outside fence at that point. So, I didn't know what to think. They got us mired back in traffic and made the last 50 laps kind of interesting. We still had an awesome race car and got the job done. I’m just so happy to win this sixth champion. I want to encourage everybody to go to Lowe's tomorrow. There is a $48 toolbox out there for you, so go pick it up.

"So many thanks to the great sponsors and people that worked on this car to make it go. I know there was an angel, at least one, but maybe four angles riding on this car. My Grandmother passed away a month or so ago, and I am without grandparents now which is a sad thing. But, I know my Grandma and my other grandparents were helping me guide this car around this car around the track. This one is for her. She was my biggest fan."

ABOUT HIS WIFE CHANDRA: "She is the strongest woman on the planet. She makes me who I am, and makes me a better man. She does a fantastic job raising these kids and keeping me in line, I am her third kid. I am so thankful to have her as wife.  We are going to have a lot of fun and enjoy this moment.

"This is such a special place. There is nothing like this. We all worked so hard to get to this point; every team does. I'm so grateful to drive for Hendrick Motorsports and drive this No. 48 car, and to have the great support from Lowe's and everybody and Hendrick Motorsports. This sport is really about people. And I'm so thankful to have them all pulling in the same direction for me and giving me this awesome race car."

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE RESTART AND THE DAMAGE ON THE CAR? WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND AND WHAT WAS THE CONVERSATION WITH (CREW CHIEF) CHAD (KNAUS)?

"Something happened in front of us in our lane and had everyone stacked up. I got hit from behind then got into the 20. We were both out of control, and I thought, 'Man this is going to be wild. The 20 and 48 are going to wreck on the front stretch!' We all got it straightened up but lost a lot of track position. With the damage and the position loss, I couldn't cut through traffic as quick as I wanted to. But we were able to get back up into the top-10."

WHERE DOES THIS SIXTH CHAMPIONSHIP STACK UP TO THE OTHER FIVE?

"This is extremely sweet. I feel like those five years were a blur, and things happened so fast. It's not that I didn't enjoy it or appreciate it or didn't respect what happened. It just went by so fast, it seems like. I'm really going to slow things down here and enjoy it. This is so, so sweet."

THERE WILL BE COMPARISONS COMING IN 2014 WITH YOU GOING AFTER A SEVENTH CHAMPIONSHIP THAT RICHARD PETTY AND DALE EARNHARDT HAVE.

"It's a huge honor. I have six, and we will see if I get seven. Time will tell. I think we need to save the argument until I hang up the helmet; then it's worth the argument. If people want to argue and fight about it right now then they can. But let's wait until I hang up the helmet before we start thinking about this."

RICK HENDRICK - TEAM OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS

YOU NOW HAVE 11 NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIPS TO BREAK A TIE WITH PETTY ENTERPRISES. WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?

"I can't believe it. I always wanted to win one of these things. I never thought we would win 11. It's unbelievable. I can't really describe it. I didn't want to get excited until tonight and until it was over. It's part of history, and I'm proud of our guys. For Jimmie to have six and us to have 11, it's still hard to believe."

CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS – 2013 Champion

“Man, what a great day. I just can’t thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports enough. A lot of effort went into this No. 48 car this season. Everybody on the No. 48 team has dug in really deep. We had a whole lot of new players on our team this year from engineers to mechanics to pit crew members and everybody played a very important role into what it was we needed to do this year. Everybody at Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports; we couldn’t be prouder.”

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION ON THE LAP 193 RESTART AND CONTACT WITH MATT KENSETH?

“I don’t really know what happened. Somebody spun their tires or there was some type of contact up ahead of us and shoot, we went from sixth to 27th pretty quickly. I knew our car was plenty good enough to drive back up there. I wish we could have raced for it. I knew we had a car that could have potentially ran up front and maybe win the race. But hey, we’ll take what we got. We got a good trophy.”

HOW WILL THIS ONE FEEL TO CELEBRATE?

“It’s going to be painful tomorrow morning I can promise you that. We’re going to have a lot of fun tonight. I actually told somebody at the shop the other day, you can’t take these for granted. You can’t take wins for granted and you can’t take championships for granted. They are so difficult. They’re so hard to achieve and you have to cherish each one of them.”

Results

Pos # Driver Make Start Laps Led Status
1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 5 267 72 Running
2 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 1 267 144 Running
3 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 21 267 28 Running
4 56 Martin Truex Jr Toyota 8 267 0 Running
5 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 25 267 0 Running
6 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 4 267 9 Running
7 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 11 267 0 Running
8 22 Joey Logano Ford 3 267 0 Running
9 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 7 267 0 Running
10 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 6 267 8 Running
11 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 26 267 0 Running
12 99 Carl Edwards Ford 18 267 0 Running
13 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 13 267 0 Running
14 55 Elliott Sadler Toyota 10 267 0 Running
15 51 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 20 267 1 Running
16 43 Aric Almirola Ford 19 267 0 Running
17 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 15 267 0 Running
18 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 27 267 0 Running
19 14 Mark Martin Chevrolet 22 267 0 Running
20 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 24 267 0 Running
21 78 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 2 267 4 Running
22 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford 9 267 0 Running
23 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 14 267 0 Running
24 16 Greg Biffle Ford 16 267 0 Running
25 30 Parker Kligerman Toyota 30 267 0 Running
26 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 23 267 0 Running
27 38 David Gilliland Ford 31 266 0 Running
28 13 Casey Mears Ford 40 266 0 Running
29 34 David Ragan Ford 29 266 1 Running
30 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 28 265 0 Running
31 83 David Reutimann Toyota 32 265 0 Running
32 36 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 37 264 0 Running
33 33 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 39 264 0 Running
34 32 Ken Schrader Ford 41 263 0 Running
35 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 42 263 0 Running
36 47 AJ Allmendinger Toyota 36 257 0 Running
37 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota 33 248 0 Running
38 7 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 38 242 0 Running
39 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 12 229 0 Accident
40 21 Trevor Bayne Ford 17 223 0 Engine
41 35 Josh Wise Ford 35 119 0 Rear Gear
42 40 Tony Raines Chevrolet 43 104 0 Vibration
43 98 Michael McDowell Ford 34 63 0 Brakes

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