We all knew it was a possibility, but we didn’t know if it would ever happen.
Seven championships. Done only twice in the history of the sport and not in over two decades. Even a driver like Jimmie Johnson, who won five championships in a row, couldn’t pull it off, right?
Oh, but he did. After winning from 2006 to 2010, and again in 2013, the question was almost constant: Could Johnson tie the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in sealing a seventh title?
We have known for a few weeks now that Johnson would make a legitimate run at this weekend. His win at Martinsville Speedway only three races prior assured him of that. However, having to beat the other three championship contenders – Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards – was going to be no easy feat, no matter how many titles he had won prior.
During the race, it looked like he was the worst of the four. He had to start at the back after some, er, “difficulties” getting through pre-race inspection, and the car didn’t have the raw speed needed to contend with the others.
Except at the end. A few late-race restarts and a crash between Edwards and Logano opened the door for Johnson, and he went on to not only win the championship, but the race as well.
“Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth,” said Johnson. “Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.
“I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance; from my dirt days – my parents first and foremost, my brothers, my wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe’s, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance. Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company.
“Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. So thrilled to be in this moment and so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”
And number seven? Well, that’s just as unreal.
“It’s big,” said Johnson. “It has a different meaning. The No. 7 has a very special place in my heart with Ricky Hendrick. As a lot of people know. For some reason I just felt good and calm today and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us. I know it was help from above. In my heart I wanted to believe it would happen. It has and I just can’t believe it. Thank you so much!”
Many of Johnson’s competitors – including Logano – stopped by to congratulate him. Others included car co-owner Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart in his final race in the Sprint Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and a handful of others.
“It means so much,” said Johnson. “We are working with them all each and every week so many great friendships and relationships here in the garage.”
“I’m proud,” said Stewart. “It’s been an awesome 21 years racing in NASCAR with the XFINITY Series and the Cup Series. That is really cool to see that No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) up there making history. Now we’ve got three guys in the seven win club. Pretty proud day, I was glad I got to race with him on the day he got his seventh.”
Team co-owner Gordon was on the pit box for the No. 48 team for the entire race and expressed his excitement afterward.
“Well, it was certainly a different perspective on it being on the pit box with Rick (Hendrick, Team Owner), Chad (Knaus, crew chief), and all those guys on that 48 team,” said Gordon. “Obviously you never give up until that checkered flag waves. You know, there were moments throughout the weekend where I thought Jimmie and the 48 team were the best ones out there and there were times when it looked like we were going to settle for less than the championship.
“But those guys never stopped fighting or gave up. The best pit stops came at the right time and the calls that Chad made came at the right time. Jimmie had the most incredible moves and restarts at the end when it counted most and that is why those guys are seven time champions and proved it again tonight.”
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) November 21, 2016
Happy for @JimmieJohnson. I wish dad was here to shake his hand. Woulda been awesome to see that.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) November 21, 2016
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) November 21, 2016
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) November 21, 2016
There are more of course. The point is that this championship was appreciated by folks outside of the No. 48 and Hendrick Motorsports camp.
Richard Petty himself released a statement about Johnson tying his record.
“Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at. Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team. Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”
Love him, hate him, or otherwise, a seventh championship for is not just unreal, unbelievable, and exciting for the No. 48 team. For the entirety of the sport, both past, present and future, this was history.