Who’s in the headline – The elite level of NASCAR has increased by 50%. There are many gauges to judge the greats but championships are a huge differentiator. Jimmie Johnson took advantage of circumstances that fell his way, led the final three laps, and notched his seventh career title. Johnson shares the headline with Tony Stewart who ran his final race at the Cup level of his distinguished career. Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus becomes the second to sit atop the box for seven titles.
What happened – Kevin Harvick started on pole and led the first 31 laps. Lost the lead to Carl Edwards on a restart but gained it back three laps later. Gave it up after 33 more laps for a green flag stop. Edwards led a bit before pitting himself. Harvick led 15 more laps before Logano took the point. Edwards took it back on lap 92 and proceeded to trade it with Kyle Larson for next 173 laps except for one lap under caution for Kyle Busch. After an enormous wreck that took out Edwards, damaged Logano and reduced the field by several cars, Johnson positioned himself to grab the top spot on the final restart of the race after a caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. being wrecked off of turn two.
Why you should care – People will discuss and debate the relevance and legitimacy but there is no question, Johnson has now joined Petty and Earnhardt in the pantheon of NASCAR. Parity in the sport is at an all-time high and the ability of one man to win seven titles in eleven years is simply amazing. It may be years after he retires but some day his greatness will be appreciated. Probably after he ends up with the most titles and the second most wins.
What your friends are talking about – Daniel Suarez claimed the XFINITY series title Saturday night. He became the first Latin American to win a national touring series title in NASCAR. Suarez is the first graduate of the Drive for Diversity to win an XFINITY series title. Suarez was the Rookie of the Year in the series last year.
Brian France had a media availability Sunday morning in Homestead. He was lauding the title for Suarez and the success of the diversity initiative. He was also quite complimentary of the results of the elimination Chase format in the XFINITY and Truck Series. He was abrupt and dismissive about questions concerning the health of the sport, ratings and attendance. It is never good when the person at the top of the organization refuses to admit there is a problem.
Tommy Baldwin Racing has sold their charter to Leavine Family Racing. Baldwin has been a team owner for eight years in the Cup series and has attempted every race in that time. Circle Sport is ending their partnership with Leavine at the end of this season and Thrivent Financial has announced they will not be returning to their organization. The addition of the charter for LFR will most certainly entice potential sponsors to come on board the No. 95 with guaranteed starting spots in all of the races next season.
Tony Stewart is done racing in the Cup series. One of the best drivers in the history of the sport, with three championships, Stewart leaves with 49 wins. He will undoubtedly be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He will still be present at the track along with his duties as owner of Eldora Speedway, Tony Stewart Racing and the Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions. Stewart will also be on more local dirt tracks chasing his passion of racing on dirt. Stewart goes down in history as the only driver to win a Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup.
Toyota won the Manufacturer’s championship in the Cup series for the first time since joining the sport. The presence of the Japanese auto manufacturer has long been a bone of contention for longtime fans but they are a bridge to the younger demographic NASCAR hopes to attract. That also leads Brian France to admit there is at least some interest on behalf of the sanctioning body to add another manufacturer to the mix. Honda has long been discussed. It will be interesting if they ever finally come around.
Who is mad – Is there any doubt the maddest driver leaving Homestead is Carl Edwards? Edwards was in front of the final four drivers for most of the race. He was in a position to win the title when a questionable caution flew for a car bouncing off of the wall. On the subsequent restart Logano had a run and Edwards had to block him to maintain his shot to win the title. He ended up spinning across the track after bouncing off of the inside wall, slid over the top of Kasey Kahne‘s car and wound up in a steaming heap of twisted sheet metal and scored in 34th position. For the second time in his career he had a title ripped from his hands when he was holding it so close to the end of the year.
Martin Truex Jr. saw his season come to an end engulfed in a ball of fire on the inside of turns one and two at Homestead after being caught up in the same wreck that took out Edwards. After failing to make the final eight thanks to a blown engine at Talladega, Truex was hoping to grab a win to finish the year. Unfortunately his car didn’t have the speed to contend for the win Sunday which is why he was back in the pack and caught up in someone else’s mess. Fortunately he got out of the car quickly and was uninjured by the inferno. He is hoping to come back stronger than ever in 2017.
Logano also has to be less than thrilled about the penultimate restart of the race. He had a run on Edwards and made the move to his inside to try and get to the top spot among championship contenders. Edwards blocked for all he was worth and that resulted in the big wreck. While Logano could continue and came home in fourth position in the race, he lost his shot at the title on that one move. Logano has won more races than anyone in the Chase over the last two years but still does not have a title to show for it.
Who is happy – Michael McDowell went into Homestead wondering who will sponsor his car next year and whether he’ll have a ride next year if they can’t find one. He also had to qualify on speed as Ty Dillon was jumping into his normal No. 95 ride. Not only did he qualify into the race he dodged the carnage, had a strong run and came home with a top 10 finish. This was McDowell’s second top 10 of the season which is two more than Danica Patrick, in weaker equipment.
AJ Allmendinger was scored two laps down at one point during the race. Similar to McDowell he kept digging, avoided the mayhem and ended up crossing the finish line in eighth place. This was his ninth top 10 of the season which is the second most of his career. He is still chasing that elusive first oval win, and next year is going to be a challenge expanding to a second team, but he is knocking on the door and the victory is right around the corner.
Top 5s are very hard to come by in the Cup series and Jamie McMurray turned in his second this weekend. His first was week 10 at Talladega. McMurray qualified for the Chase but was knocked out in the first round. His teammate made it one more round but had a win and had better runs during the Chase. Leaving 2016 on an up tick will hopefully set the table for McMurray to make a stronger run in 2017.
When the checkered flag flew: Jimmie Johnson scored the win at Homestead in his 543rd career start.
Johnson’s win was his first of his career at Homestead-Miami Speedway. There are now three tracks on the schedule where Johnson has failed to win. They are Chicago, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.
Johnson was victorious five times in 2016 which is the most in the series.
Johnson also has 29 career wins in the Chase which is more than anyone else in the series.
On the all-time wins list Johnson is ranked seventh behind Cale Yarborough.
Kyle Larson came home with his fourth top 2 run of the season.
Larson’s runner-up was his first in four career races at Homestead.
For his career Larson has come home in the second spot six times. That ties him for 79th on the all-time list.
Rounding out the podium at the season finale was Kevin Harvick for his ninth of the season.
Harvick has come home in the top 3 seven times in his career and three years in a row.
All-time Harvick has come home on the podium 108 times which is 16th on the list.
Chase Elliott won the Rookie of the Race for his 11th place finish and was also announced as the Rookie of the Year in the Cup series.
Toyota was declared the Manufacturer’s champion and swept all three of the national touring series awards in that category.
What is in the cooler – Similar to last week, the new Chase format certainly added some excitement to the racing with the pressure of what was at stake. Sadly the biggest turn in the events was the late race restart crash that took Edwards out of contention. That wreck doesn’t take place if NASCAR doesn’t throw a caution when Dylan Lupton bounces off of the wall in turn one and drives to the pits. The racing was still intense and there were multiple passes for the lead. As a result we’ll give it four cold On Top Blondes from Funky Buddha Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – NASCAR national touring series racing is done for the season. The next opportunity to see a gathering of your favorite NASCAR stars is Friday, December 2. The banquet will take place at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Racing returns to the track February 18th for the Shootout at Daytona.