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Johnson's five-year reign comes to an end at Phoenix

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Fort Worth, TX (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson's five-year dynasty in the Sprint Cup Series officially came to an end on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. After finishing 14th in the Kobalt Tools 500, his bid for a sixth straight series championship was over.

"It's been one hell of a run," Johnson posted on his Twitter account following the race.

After winning at Kansas -- the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup -- and moving to within four points of leader Carl Edwards, it looked as though Johnson was on track for another championship. But his title campaign took a big hit the following race at Charlotte, where he finished 34th after crashing hard into the wall.

What Jimmie Johnson accomplished in the past five years put him into the elite company of auto racing greats.
Now mathematically eliminated, Johnson is 68 points behind heading into next Sunday's season-finale at Homestead, FL.

"I'm definitely disappointed that we won't be able to go to Homestead and race for our sixth, but that's motorsports," he said. "It's a very tough business."

With just a three-point separation between them, Edwards and Tony Stewart are the only drivers who remain in championship contention. Edwards has held the points lead in each Chase race since Kansas, but Stewart has turned the title fight into a thriller after winning at Martinsville and Texas and then finishing third at Phoenix.

"I'll definitely have more fun and get a lot of sleep going [to Homestead]," Johnson said. "I'll bet you the No.99 [Edwards] and the No.14 [Stewart] won't. I'll have fun watching from the sidelines."

Johnson was in a similar situation one year ago when he trailed Denny Hamlin by 15 points in what was the closest margin between the top-two drivers entering the final Chase race since NASCAR began its playoff format in 2004.

Take into account that NASCAR significantly changed its points system prior to the start of this season. The sanctioning body adopted a simpler points format (43-1) compared to its previous system (185-34).

Johnson's second-place finish coupled to a 14th-place run for Hamlin in last year's race at Homestead allowed Johnson to beat Hamlin for the championship by 39 points.

What Johnson accomplished in the past five years put him into the elite company of auto racing greats like Formula One's Michael Schumacher and NHRA drag racer John Force. Schumacher won seven F1 world championships, including five in a row from 2000-04. Last year, Force notched his 15th NHRA Funny Car title. Ten of them came consecutively from 1993-2002.

Furthermore, Johnson won his fifth championship in NASCAR's premier series quicker than Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, both of whom share the record with seven titles. It took Earnhardt 13 full season to win his fifth championship, while Petty accomplished the feat in his 16th year in the sport. Johnson did it in his ninth full season.

"What we did over the last five years is abnormal," Johnson said. "And then now we'll get a taste of normalcy."

Johnson is hoping to conclude this season on a high note at Homestead, which is one of five racetracks on the current Sprint Cup schedule where he has yet to win. Then it will be time for he and his No.48 Hendrick Motorsports team to gear up for next year.

"We'll definitely learn," he said. "To a certain degree being on top for as long as we have been takes a lot of effort to maintain that. It just takes a lot out of you. So this winter will be a nice winter to unplug and relax and really look internally and dissect the different areas of the race team and what we do and come back stronger.

"I've always learned more from tougher moments, and by no means is this a tough moment. Yes, the streak is gone, but we've still got a shot at a top- five in points, and that would be a big year still."

Johnson's reign might be over for now, but don't be surprised if he has one hell of a comeback next year.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Chris Symeon on Twitter and Facebook.

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