Johnson captures sixth Sprint Cup Series championship|
Homestead, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The "six pack" is off the ice and in the
hands of Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Johnson claimed his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship with a ninth-place
finish in Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami
Speedway. He ended the season 19 points ahead of Matt Kenseth, who finished
second, and 34 points ahead of Kevin Harvick, who placed 10th. They were the
only drivers eligible for the title when the series came to this 1.5-mile
South Florida racetrack.
Running among the top-10 for most of this 400-mile race, Johnson had a scare
with 74 laps to go when after a restart he bumped into the back of Kenseth and
sustained slight damage to his left-front fender amid a traffic jam, caused by
Jeff Gordon's slow restart. Johnson dropped from eighth to 23rd, as there was
concern of tire rub. He was guaranteed of clinching the championship with a
finish of 23rd or better in this event.
Several laps after Johnson's mishap, a caution came when smoke plumed from the
back of Paul Menard's car. Johnson pitted for new tires during the caution and
then eventually climbed back into the top-10.
"I had contact from behind that pushed me up into the 20 (Kenseth), and both
of us were out of control and sliding toward the outside fence at that point,"
Johnson said. "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 championship."
Johnson is now only one title away from tying Richard Petty and the late Dale
Earnhardt for most championships in NASCAR's premier series. He ended the
season with six wins, including two races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and
24 top-10 finishes. Johnson became the first driver in series history to win
five consecutive titles (2006-10).
"I feel like those five years were a blur, and things happened so fast," he
said. "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."
Chad Knaus, who has been Johnson's crew chief since his rookie season in 2002,
is two titles away from tying Dale Inman for most crew chief championships in
"A lot of effort went into this No. 48 car this season," Knaus said.
"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."
This is Rick Hendrick's 11th owner's championship in Cup, the most all-time.
Hendrick Motorsports' 11 titles have come within the past 19 years in the
series, putting the team's title-winning percentage during that span at 57.9.
"I always wanted to win one of these things, but I never thought we would win
11," Hendrick said. "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 hard to believe."
Denny Hamlin, who is Kenseth's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, won at Homestead.
Hamlin scored his first victory of the season and the 23rd of his Sprint Cup
career. His last win in the series came in September 2012 at New Hampshire (40
Hamlin missed the Chase for the first time in his career after a serious back
injury early in the season sidelined him for four races. He suffered a
compression fracture in his lower back during an accident on the final lap of
the March 24 race in Fontana, Calif. After his return, Hamlin struggled for
the remainder of the season, posting just six top-10 finishes before his
victory at Homestead. He won at this track for the first time in 2009.
"As bad as the year was, we can take a little solace in this finish," said
Hamlin, who has won a race in each of his eight seasons in Sprint Cup. "We'll
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 2014, like we
did in 2010 after winning here in 2009. That was the point for us, when we won
this race here in '09, confidence went through the roof. 2010 was a great
season for us. Hopefully that repeats."
While Hamlin ran in front for a total of 72 laps, including the final 24,
Kenseth, the pole sitter, led the most laps with 144. Kenseth, in his first
season with JGR, scored a series-high seven wins, including the first two
"It's been a great year, best year I've ever had," Kenseth said. "Had a great
weekend, great night. I wanted to come up with a win. I'm really happy for
Denny getting that win. If Jimmie would have got a flat (tire) or something
that would have been okay there at the end too.
"On a serious note, Jimmie and that team are 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."
Harvick made his last start with Richard Childress Racing before he moves over
to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. Last weekend, Harvick kept his
championship hopes alive with a win at Phoenix. He had four victories this
"I'm happy with everything that we have been able to accomplish as a group,"
Harvick said. "We had a great year knowing what the circumstances were, and we
have won a lot of races."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Clint
Bowyer. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, Kyle Busch and Joey
Logano placed sixth through eighth, respectively.
Danica Patrick completed her rookie season in the series with a 20th-place
finish, while Patrick's boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished two spot
behind her in 22nd and clinched the rookie-of-the-year title.
"It means a lot, looking at all the other names that have won this award,"
said Stenhouse, who won the Nationwide Series championship in 2011 and '12
before his first full season in Cup. "I was proud of what we did throughout
the season, of getting better, qualifying better, having runs up front,
leading laps throughout this year."
The last race of the season had a frightening moment when Menard's car caught
on fire and then his right-rear tire exploded while he was parked on pit road.
Sparks were flying underneath his car after the tire went flat while on the
track. His crew was attempting to extinguish the flames when wheel exploded.
There were no injuries.
"That was really wild," Menard said. "I really didn't know about the fire
until there were some sparks coming in the car and landed on the window net. I
thought that was kind of weird. A lap later, the car is on fire. I lost my
brakes, and then the wheel blew right off."
11/18 07:27:34 ET