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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Jimmie Johnson Wins Historic 7th Sprint Cup Championship

After one swift pass on a restart with two laps to go, Jimmie Johnson matched history in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.

Scoring his first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson beat championship rival Joey Logano to grab his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship. In just his 15th season, he’s now equaled Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time. The 80th race-winning trophy Johnson earned was icing on the cake, scooting ahead after Kyle Larson had quietly dominated ahead of the Championship 4.

“It’s big,” Johnson said. “It has a different meaning. For some reason, I just felt good and calm today and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us.”

Johnson’s demeanor proved crucial as the team spent the day coming from behind. A faulty A-Post during pre-race inspection sent the No. 48 car straight to the rear; Johnson moved up quickly, jumping into the top 10 by lap 50 but then stalled out. As the race unfolded, fellow title contenders Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano had more speed, better track position and left the No. 48 team praying for a miracle.

That moment came in the form of Edwards and Logano.

Starting from the 10th position, it was Edwards who held the top spot among the Chasers for a majority of the event. Leading 47 laps, Edwards fought back from a poor late pit stop, dropping from second to fifth during one sequence and passed teammate Busch during the final stretch. With Larson far ahead, he was poised to finish second – enough to win the championship – until a late caution for smoke from Dylan Lupton’s No. 32 car stirred the pot.

The ensuing restart came with 12 laps remaining and leader Larson chose the outside line. That left Edwards restarting inside, just in front of Logano as the cars hit the start/finish line. Logano got momentum, surging to the inside of Edwards but Edwards came down and blocked.  The result was a savage accident that saw Edwards pound the inside SAFER barrier before getting slammed hard by Kasey Kahne. Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, and Ryan Newman also took hard hits with Truex’s car on fire for several seconds.

Though Edwards was understandably torn, he gave credit to his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team for an “outstanding” performance. Quality sportsmanship ensued, the driver running to Logano’s pit box to shake crew chief Todd Gordon’s hand before giving a number of standup interviews to the press.

“I went down there and blocked, he went down as far as a guy can be expected to go down, and I just thought we were going to possibly hit,” Edwards said. “I just thought I’d have a little more time to correct it, but we were so far down there he couldn’t go any further down basically and we ended up wrecked.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

“I understand why he had to throw the block,” said Logano after the race. “And he understands why I had to make the move, because that was for the win. That was the only shot that I had. It’s 10 laps to go; what do you expect?”

The wreck did irritate several drivers bothered by the previous caution. Keselowski was among them.

Following the wreck, Busch restarted third and Johnson fourth while Logano pitted for fresh tires. Suddenly, the No. 48 team was perfect position to capitalize and they took advantage. Nailing the restart, Johnson moved up to second before Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. forced another caution and NASCAR Overtime.

Logano charged up to third, pushing by Busch but ultimately didn’t have enough to catch the No. 48 on one final restart. Busch, who wound up getting fresh tires of his own for that green-white-checkered finish could only run sixth as Johnson broke the barrier on title number seven.

“Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs,” he said. “But we just kept our heads in the game. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) 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.”

“Crazy that they were never really in the game,” added Busch. “But there they are all of a sudden every chance they get. They get in the right time or the right lane or have a good restart or just do they things they need to do, and make the most of it.”

Another driver disappointed exiting Homestead is Kyle Larson, the non-Chaser who led 132 of 268 laps before losing the lead to Johnson on the final restart to finish second. He felt officials turned the other way late in the race in an attempt not to affect the battle for the championship.

Kevin Harvick, Logano and Jamie McMurray completed the top 5 followed by Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger and Denny HamlinMichael McDowell, driving the No. 59 Circle Sport Levine Family Racing Chevrolet for only the second time in 2016, came home 10th for his best career finish outside of Daytona and Talladega.

Brian Scott, who announced his retirement from the series last week, grabbed 15th in his final race while Tony Stewart was 22nd to end his legendary career. Stewart, never a factor in the race itself received congratulations from virtually every driver in the Cup garage along with car owner Joe Gibbs and former rival Jeff Gordon.

“It’s an honor,” he said of all the attention. “That’s what means the most, when you have these guys coming to you at the end of the day and saying they’re going to miss you.”

ALLAWAY: Wrecks Ruins Edwards’ Title Hopes

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About Zach Catanzareti

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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5 comments

  1. In looking at the stats, what JJ has done is clearly historic & remarkable. To me, more importantly, he exemplifies dignity, class & sportsmanship. Given that & his the world beating stats, he clearly belongs in an elite class & in the room with the likes of The Big E & The King. But, in putting him there, you have to stay in touch with the fact that ALL you are comparing stats, namely he driver’s championships, across incomparable eras. The age of the one race “shoot-out” or “green-white-checker” championship is NOT comparable in the least to proper & integral “season’s driver’s championships”. Nascar can tout the “chase” winner as the “driver’s champion”, but to me, the two motorsports terms… “green-white-checkered finish” (which these many of these “chase” races almost invariably culminate in) & “season’s driver’s championship” …could not have more diametrically opposed definitions. So, to me, the “chase” winner & the “season’s driver’s champion” are NOT the same thing. And in fact, when tallied side-by-side, “chase” & “classic” formats rarely have the same results.
    Again, JJ’s stats clearly show he is an all-time great & in no way do I mean to assail that FACT, BUT he has MOST DEFINATELY been a benefactor of the “chase” format in accumulating his Cups. That is undeniable & he would only have THREE “classic” format champions. With a “classic” format, Harvick is the ’16 champion & Johnson finished P8, some -152 points back. Along those lines, the “What if ‘classic’ instead of ‘chase’ format” stacks up like this:
    ’04 – Jeff Gordon (not KuBu) (x 5)
    ’05 – Tony Stewart (either way)
    ’06 – Jimmie Johnson (either way) (x 1)
    ’07 – Jeff Gordon (not JJ) (x 6)
    ’08 – Carl Edwards (not JJ) (x 1)
    ’09 – Jimmie Johnson (either way) (x 2)
    ’10 – Kevin Har-ick (not JJ) (x 1)
    ’11 – Carl Edwards (not TS) (x 2)
    ’12 – Brad Keselowski (either way)
    ’13 – Jimmie Johnson (either way) (x 3)
    ’14 – Jeff Gordon (not Harvick) (x 7)
    ’15 – Kevin Har-ick (not KyBu who was -454 pts behind) (x 2)
    ’16 – Kevin Har-ick (not JJ) (x 3)
    By the way, it has not escaped me that I first called stats across differing eras incomparable, then compared them anyway. Whelp, that is because I consider the “chase” format a farcical & irrational, if not delusional alternate version of reality. There-in, the “classic” format, which is used in EVERY major motorsports category in the World that I know of, is “normal”, hence more representative of who Nascar’s “real” Champion are.
    So, if any semblance of motorsport normalcy reigned the Cup series, Mr. “Se7en” would in fact be JEFF GORDON! And Mr. Johnson would be shoulder-to-shoulder with Harvick & they would hardly be within sniffing distance of JG’s, Big E’s or The King’s fire-booties. Just saying, that statistical anomaly can not be denied & should not be overlooked.

  2. You can hate on Jimmie all you want. He simply played on the board he was given. People need to remember that Petty won some of those 7 championships under some of NASCAR’s hokey formats of the pre-Winston Era. In those years you could win championships by simply showing up at more races than any of the other good teams when many top teams chased trophies and paychecks more than the championship. Also, it’s not like Earnhardt dominated in all of his championship seasons either. In 1993, Rusty Wallace won 10 races and didn’t get the title and in 1986 Tim Richmond won more races. In the end, the 48 won the most races and stepped up their performance when it counted.

  3. Brian doesn’t have to change the name on the trophy that has been on his desk in his ivory tower since January. He wouldn’t want to pay to have the name changed.

  4. Yawn! For the first time ever, I didn’t watch a single lap of a season finale race and I did just fine without it. I hope Johnson wins at least one more championship which will make Petty & Earnhardt irrelevant in the eyes of BZF and Johnson will be touted as the greatest driver to ever grace NASCAR. When the NASCAR/Hendrick hype machine kicks into high gear, that’s all we’ll be hearing in the NASCAR media and people will be leaving in droves. I am not a Johnson fan, but I am eager to see this incarnation of NASCAR crash and burn.